Dr. Martina Whelshula has the kind of personality that fills the room.
A member of the Colville Confederated Tribes, she serves as executive director of the Healing Lodge of the Seven Nation, a Spokane, Washington-based treatment center that helps youth overcome drug and alcohol addictions.
“A powerhouse of enthusiasm,” described Colleen Jollie, a descendent of the Turtle Mt. Chippewa Tribe and a founding board member of the Potlatch Fund, a Seattle, Washington-based grant-making foundation and leadership development organization dedicated to expanding philanthropy within Tribal Nations and Native communities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. Jollie nominated Dr. Whelshula for the Patrician Whitefoot Education Award, an honor presented annually at the Potlatch Fund Gala. Now in its 10th year, the gala recognizes the potlatch ceremony common to northwest coastal tribes in which the host distributes gifts to those attending.
“She has a doctorate degree in traditional knowledge and taps tribal traditions in an educational process to bring healing to the children in her care at the Healing Lodge of the Seven Nations,” Jollie wrote in her letter of nomination. “Her holistic and dynamic approach to helping disadvantaged youth become tomorrow’s community leaders is inspirational.”
The award’s namesake is Patricia (Patsy) Whitefoot, a Yakama tribal member, current president of the National Indian Education Association and long-time leader in tribal and formal education in Washington State and beyond.
At the 2012 Potlatch Fund Gala, held November 3 at the Tulalip Resort Casino in Tulalip, Washington, the award was bestowed upon Dr. Whelshula for her dedication to improving the lives of young Natives at the Healing Lodge.
After serving as a mental health counselor at the treatment center since 2001, Dr. Whelshula was promoted to Healing Lodge executive director in 2008. In her former role, she found success incorporating Native ceremonies and practices into therapy. Drawing on her previous experience, as director, she created a holistic program designed around cultural activities and music to help youth recover. Her unique approach is rooted in Native values of respect, generosity, family, community, humor and honoring all creation.
The young residents learn about themselves and their addictions through the teachings of animals, the medicine wheel, the Beauty Way and traditional arts. The healing process is enhanced by ceremonies such as sweat lodge, cleansing ceremonies, rites of passage, gathering plant medicines, drumming and singing.
“Her leadership style is grounded in traditional tribal values and a heart to serve,” said Julia Davis-Wheeler (Nez Perce), president of the Healing Lodge Board of Directors. “I see the respect and positive regard our youth have for Dr. Whelshula. She not only runs a complex organization but stays directly connected with the kids because she draws so much pleasure from working with them.”
More than 600 people attended the recent gala. “There were tribal leaders, philanthropists from all over—the ‘who’s who’ of Indian country including elders and cultural people,” Dr. Whelshula said. “They always have a beautiful opening with drummers and dancers,” she added.
Each year, the Potlatch Fund additionally honors four other Native American individuals for their outstanding achievements in the categories of economic development, civic participation, natural resource protection and cultural preservation. Johnpaul Jones, Choctaw/Cherokee, accepted the award for economic development in recognition of his 45-year career as an architect. Julie Johnson, Lummi, was honored for her civic participation, working with tribes and Indian organizations at the regional and national level for 25 years. Brian Cladoosby, Swinomish, received the natural resource protection award for his many years of work managing environmental issues in the Salish Sea. Chief Delvis Heath, Sr., Warm Springs, was recognized in the category of cultural preservation for his lifetime of practicing a traditional lifestyle and serving as tribal chief since 1982.