From left, four of seven members making up the Tulalip Tribes board of directors are Theresa Sheldon,Teri Gobin, Bonnie Juneau and Board Chairwoman, Marie Zackuse. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

From left, four of seven members making up the Tulalip Tribes board of directors are Theresa Sheldon,Teri Gobin, Bonnie Juneau and Board Chairwoman, Marie Zackuse. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

‘Lifegivers’: Tulalip Tribes honor their strong women

Four women are making history. With Marie Zackuse as chairwoman, for the first time there’s a female majority on the Tulalip Tribes Board of Directors. To mark the tribes’ Year of the Woman, grandmothers Wednesday received thanks, tributes and hugs at an uplifting event that brought generations of Tulalips together.

“Grandparents are the first teachers. You are so needed,” said board secretary Theresa Sheldon, 39, at the “Honoring Our Lifegivers” ceremony.

The celebration recognized 10 female elders, along with the women of the board. Honor songs, drumming, prayers and memories were shared. The eldest, 95-year-old Blanche James, earned a college degree after raising five children. She stood to offer wise words she learned from an elder: “Do a good job and you will always have a job.”

It was March when Zackuse, 68, was elected board chairwoman in a vote by tribal members. She has served since 1990 on the seven-member board. The election also added Teri Gobin and Jared Parks to the board, with Gobin becoming the current board’s fourth female member.

“I’m the newbie,” Gobin, 60, said last week. “It is a first.”

Along with Zackuse, Sheldon and Gobin, the other female board member is Bonnie Juneau, 42. There are now more than 4,700 enrolled Tulalip Tribes members, Juneau said. The women serve on the governing board along with recent past chairman Melvin Sheldon Jr., treasurer Les Parks and his son, Jared Parks.

“It’s pretty huge — an honor,” said Zackuse. “I’m so thankful to be with other women. We still have the same issues, but I feel better knowing other women are on the board. For many years I was by myself.”

Zackuse isn’t the first woman to lead the Tulalips. Harriette Shelton Williams Dover, who died in 1991, was on the board 14 years. She joined the board in 1939, and for a time served as chairwoman, according to an essay by Peter Blecha on the HistoryLink website.

In their board room at the Tulalip administration building, today’s women leaders praised their male colleagues. It was Les Parks, Theresa Sheldon said, who brought forth a motion to observe a Year of the Woman.

“As a team, we work out issues together. Men are on this team, too,” Gobin said.

Yet they said that being mothers — and some being grandmothers — gives them close-to-home insights. “Women in leadership are thinking of our families,” Gobin said. “It’s so important to take care of our children,” Zackuse added, noting that in 2015 the Tulalips’ Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy opened.

“We don’t think of just now, but of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and of seeing that they’re growing up healthy,” Juneau said.

Tulalips continue to cope with the effects of the October 2014 shootings at Marysville Pilchuck High School, where five teens died. The shooter and some of the victims were tribal members.

Theresa Sheldon said the tragedy highlighted mental health issues. “We had a suicide prevention program, about how to break the silence and talk to your child about all these scary things,” she said. As leaders, Sheldon said, the women think about what they needed as kids, “and how that would make a difference.”

Just as they were guided by elders, the women work to mentor tribal youth. “That’s one of my favorite parts of this job, telling young people that you can be and do anything,” Juneau said. Members of a tribal youth council have traveled to Washington, D.C., and witnessed political events. “It gives kids hope for the future,” Juneau said.

They bring with them beautiful memories of growing up at Tulalip, but also knowledge of their people’s hardships.

Zackuse recalled summers when “no matter where we lived, we would go down to the beach and set up camp.” Gobin said she was just two days old when her parents took her to the beach at Spee-Bi-Dah. Tribal members fished for salmon and crab, gathered clams and mussels, and baked bread in the sand. “They were the best cooks,” said Gobin, who by 16 had her own fishing boat.

For Sheldon, cherished memories center around the family canoe. “It was being who we are as spiritual people, being on the canoe with my sisters,” she said.

Sheldon sees the importance of educating non-native people about tribal history and treaty rights. “I really feel you wouldn’t have the hatred. This country has always been diverse,” she said. “Half our job is educating people who live 10 miles away.”

Some of Juneau’s early memories reflect separations and painful times many tribal families endured. Her mother was taken away and adopted at age 8, Juneau said, which separated her mom from two sisters. Her mother later married into the Bad River Band in Wisconsin. “I moved here in my 20s. It was home,” Juneau said.

The others spoke of Tulalip family members being sent away as children to the Cushman Indian School, later a tuberculosis hospital, in Tacoma.

Zackuse is now a leader among leaders. “Marie has a calmness about her. But when she’s firm, she’s firm,” Juneau said.

Looking ahead, but with a nod to generations of Tulalip leaders whose portraits hang on their board room wall, Zackuse said “we’re always remembering seven generations out.” When she was a child, land that’s now the tribes’ thriving Quil Ceda Village was little more than woods. It was once a munitions dump, and had been leased to Boeing.

One aim is for “our kids’ kids to have something when we’re gone,” Zackuse said.

Their jobs encompass past, present and future. With 60 percent of the Tulalip population under age 25, according to Juneau, they keep their eyes on home.

“What’s beautiful about having women leadership, family isn’t left out,” Sheldon said. And Juneau added, “we all have a heart for our community.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Elders honored

These Tulalip tribal elders were honored, along with four female members of the tribes’ board of directors, at Wednesday’s “Honoring Our Lifegivers” event:

Blanche James: She grew up on Mission Beach at Tulalip with her father, Hubert Coy, and siblings. Her mother Louisa Celestine died when she was born. After marriage and raising five children, she earned a college degree and worked in the University of Washington’s Oceanography Department.

Genevieve Williams: Her father Carl Williams was from Tulalip. Her mother, Matilda, was from the Steve family. She lived at Tulalip until age 4, then went to the Cushman Indian School in Tacoma.

Loretta James: She is the mother of Marie Zackuse, now chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes board of directors, and six other children. Her father, Leroy Henry Jr., was a police officer. Loretta James worked as a magistrate and a Tulalip judge, with a focus on child advocacy. She also worked for the Swinomish and Puyallup tribes.

Etta Jones: Born at Tulalip, the daughter of George Craig Sr. and Delia Craig, she also has Yakama and Colville ancestry. She had 10 children, and has 37 grandchildren and 101 great-grandchildren.

Roberta Skoog: She was born in Mount Vernon to Robert and Arvella Shelton. She lives in Wisconsin and has five children and five grandchildren. Among her mentors was an Ojibwe woman who helped care for the children while her mother worked.

Lavinia Carpenter: The second oldest of 13 children, she said she inherited a work ethic from her father, Phillip Contraro Sr., of the Suquamish Tribe. She worked as a nurses aide, at a construction company, and for the Tulalip Tribes.

Elizabeth Penn: Her mother was Minnie Jimicum McDevitt. She didn’t meet her biological father, who was born in La Conner, until adulthood. She has one son, Richard Muir Jr. Her advice to future generations is not to forget their heritage.

Katherine Elliott: Her parents, William and Katherine Campbell, donated the bell to the Shaker Church at Tulalip. Her father had lost his mother, and was taken to the Chemawa Indian School in Oregon. He later worked at the Cushman Indian Hospital in Tacoma, where he moved his family.

Geraldine Bill: The daughter of Isadore Tom Sr. and Laura Tom, she said her mentors were her grandparents Carl and Cecelia Jones. Carl Jones was a judge who had a tribal court in his house.

Eleanor Nielsen: Her mother Bernice Williams, of Tulalip, was the 13th of 16 children. Her father, John Miller, was from the Muscogee Creek tribes whose people were moved to Oklahoma in the 1800s along what is known as the Trail of Tears.

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