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Douglas James, left, and Saim’elwit James perform a traditional Native American song during Arlington’s Stronger Together event on May 16 in front of a traditional totem pole going on a national journey.

 

This year’s Stronger Together event had discussions around issues of equity and celebrated diversity throughout the Stillaguamish Valley.

The event had online activities, such as classes and book readings, and outside activities such as a guided tour through the Stillaguamish Valley.

“We want to bring awareness through education,” said Will Nelson, one of the organizers of the event and a member of the Native American Blackfeet Nation. “We want to create unity through community."

The House of Tears Carvers from the Lummi Nation also stopped by with a carved totem pole as part of their national tour.

“This was completely serendipitous,” said Nelson. He said an employee of the Stillaguamish Tribe was responsible for bringing the totem to downtown Arlington.

“He heard about it and asked if it could be part of the ‘Stronger Together’ event,” Nelson said.

The 24-foot totem pole is scheduled to travel to Washington D.C. with stops along the way in the coming weeks and eventually  it will be featured at the Smithsonian.

The “Red Road to DC,” as the journey is titled, is meant to bring awareness to issues such as Indigenous rights, the disproportionate number of women on Native reservations who are assaulted or murdered, and the need for more environmental protection.

“We want stronger regulations and policies to protect these areas,” said Jewell James, a Native American carver and one of the organizers of the Red Road to DC.

He said he has personally seen the degradation of the local environment.

“When we grew up, we could dive off the bridge and hold our breath long enough to touch the bottom. Now if you jump off that bridge your shoulders stick out [from the water], you’ll break your neck,” said James. “I watched two streams disappear."

The Stronger Together event helped highlight local diversity and Native American tribes as well.

Nelson said Darrington, Arlington, Lakewood and the Sauk-Suiattle and Stillaguamish tribes all helped to organize the event.

“We got a bunch of other people involved as well. The Sno-Ilse Libraries have been involved, and all three school districts have been involved,” he said.

This is the second year for the Stronger Together event.

“Two years ago we started planning for the first event. We did all this planning and got all these groups together,” said Nelson. “With our first event we had envisioned these big tents bringing all of these organizations together and out to support people from all walks of life."

The coronavirus pandemic would cancel those plans but an online event was held in the fall.

“We did have an event in September that was similar to this,” said Sarah Lopez, one of the organizers for the event.

With the uncertainty around the pandemic restrictions coming into this year, the event was tricky to plan, said Nelson.

“It’s hard to have a modified event, but I think it turned out well,” said Lopez.

With the loosening COVID-19 restrictions the group was able to hold a couple of outside gatherings.

“Interacting with people again is really great. With the mask mandate lifted we were able to see people’s faces,” said Nelson.

Nelson wanted to thank all of the people who put together this year’s event.

“I’m just proud of the work that our communities are doing around this,” he said.

The Stronger Together committee plans to hold an event next year as well, possibly with smaller events throughout the year.

“We encourage people to come out and be part of our committee to plan future events,” said Lopez.

 

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