TULALIP — On Monday morning in the Hibulb Cultural Center on the Tulalip Reservation, about a dozen students went through a graduation ceremony of their own.
They were graduates of the Tulalip Tribes’ Construction Training Center, which trains native students in carpentry, welding, wiring, framing, plumbing and other trades.
The program, run by the Tribal Employment Rights Office for two years, follows Edmonds Community College’s construction trades curriculum, and its graduates leave with certifications in First Aid, flagging, and OSHA 10-hour safety cards in addition to qualifying to join various trade unions and their apprenticeship programs.
Students typically do a final project, which in the past has included personal decorative items or furniture. This year, the students took things a step further and built two 120-square-foot houses, which will be donated to the Nickelsville homeless encampment in Seattle.
Tulalip chairman Mel Sheldon Jr. called attention to homeless Native Americans living in Seattle camps and on the streets.
“I see all our urban Indian homeless and it gets me right here in the heart that we can help them during the day, but at night they have nowhere to go,” Sheldon said.
Sheldon congratulated the students and told them they’ll be able to do great things for themselves.
“But moreover, you have the opportunity to be able to do something for our community, for other people,” he said.
The plan is for the two houses to be donated to the Nickelsville encampment when it locates to the site of the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Seattle’s Central District in the fall.
The two houses will be joined by up to 13 more houses expected to be built by other volunteer organizations, such as Sawhorse Revolution and YouthBuild, to create a sturdier and safer environment for Nickelsville residents currently living in tents.
“Winter is coming, and we are seeing this as a crisis response,” said Sharon Lee, the executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute, which is working with the church to host Nickelsville.
The Institute has 16 case managers and social workers on staff who work to move people living in Nickelsville into more-permanent housing, but the small houses, which will have electricity and heat, will be a step up from tents exposed to the elements.
The plans for the mini-village include separate kitchen and toilet buildings connected to plumbing, Lee said.
Each house cost about $1,800 in materials and about $300 to move, she said.
Steve Tucker, a trustee of the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, said the church still will have to prepare the site for the installation of the houses.
“We’ve had Nickelsville there before, but we’d want to do much more than that,” Tucker said.
The goal is “to make it more compatible with the neighborhood,” he said.
The two houses made by the students feature doors painted in native motifs by Tulalip artists James Madison and Ty Juvenil.
Madison’s design features three black shapes suggesting an eagle’s wing, while Juvenil’s draws from the Northwestern native legend of the raven stealing light and creating the sun.
“The way I view it is he stole knowledge,” Juvenil said. “The door is a gateway to a new life, and new knowledge.”
To Madison, the eagle symbolizes protection and a blessing. “For the homeless people, these houses are a blessing and the eagle is protecting those inside,” Madison said.
John Hord is a homeless veteran living in Nickelsville as well as an Ojibwe tribal member from the White Earth Nation in Minnesota. He thanked the students for their contribution to helping the homeless.
“I never planned to be homeless in Nickelsville,” Hord said. A combination with bad luck and his own struggles with mental illness forced him to drop out of school and scramble to find housing.
Hord said he’d been living in the camp for about two months and had spent about five weeks on the streets before that. Nickelsville is a better option for many people trying to pull their lives back together, he said.
“If someone were to ask me today if I have a home, I’d say yes, I live in Nickelsville, and it’s a pretty decent place,” Hord said. He added that he hopes to transition into more permanent housing in the next few months.
“If you look into the future, 15, 20 years from now, these houses will still be changing people’s lives,” he said.