TULALIP — Drum beats pounded through the elementary school gymnasium, as young people in colorful traditional tribal clothing danced in the center of the room.
Around them, students sitting on the floor tilted their heads up to watch.
As the music played, different groups shared their dances. Some wore regalia with sparkles and bells that jingled as they moved, and others wore many layers of colorful fabrics.
Wednesday morning’s assembly at Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary School celebrated Tulalip Day, a holiday the Tulalip Tribes created about 10 years ago to recognize heritage and culture. It’s celebrated each year the day before Thanksgiving.
By the end of the assembly, most children in the room left their seats to join the fun. They raised their hands to the music as they made their way around the circle.
Glen Gobin, vice chairman of the Tulalip Tribes Board of Directors, told the children about the music.
Drummers and singers played songs written by leaders such as Harriette Shelton Dover and Stan Jones, who both have passed away.
“Many of the songs we sing in our culture, they belong to us personally,” Gobin said. “We could not sing those songs if we hadn’t got permission from the ones who owned them.”
Soon after, children began to dance in the circle. Most were students but some traveled to visit the school.
Adults also shared their traditions, including teacher Gina Bluebird. She is part of the Oglala Lakota tribe from South Dakota, and has lived in Tulalip for more than a year.
On Wednesday, she danced in two different styles to honor both the area here in the Northwest and the land of her tribe, while wearing traditional clothing.
“It feels so good to put my clothes back on and to wear my hair in braids and to have my feathers,” she said. “And how much healing this brings, and right now we are in the time of healing.”
She thanked tribal leaders for warmly welcoming her.
Tulalip Tribes member Patti Gobin wore feathers that once belonged to Harriette Shelton Dover.
“None of this would be possible without her,” Gobin said.
As a child, Dover survived the Tulalip Boarding School, where she was beaten for speaking her native language, Lushootseed. Her sister and other children at the school fell ill and died. Native American children from around the country were sent to similar schools to erase cultural traditions.
Dover later became a leader and protector of tribal history. She was the second woman to serve on the tribes’ board of directors, and became the first chairwoman.
She pushed the Marysville School District to build an elementary school on the reservation. Once it was open, she became a teacher and its first PTA president. Dover died in 1991 at age 86.
“It was her dream to share our culture in the Marysville School District so our kids would have pride for who they are,” Gobin said. “For so long, we haven’t been able to share it.”
At Quil Ceda Tulalip, about 37% of students identify as Native American, according to state records.
Gobin’s daughter, Chelsea Craig, is a cultural specialist at Quil Ceda Tulalip. She hosted the event on Wednesday.
Craig started by telling students some history of the Tulalip Tribes.
“There was a time boys and girls, remember I tell you often, when our grandparents weren’t allowed to speak their language, they weren’t allowed to dress in their regalia and sing their songs,” she told the crowd. “This happened at school, it happened a long time ago.”
She reminded the children that it is safe to celebrate their culture at school.
Craig believes it’s important that the district gave the tribes space to celebrate Tulalip Day together.
“This is just the start of what it could be,” she said. “Everything you saw today, that’s how school should be every day.”
Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @stephrdavey.
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