TULALIP, Washington—It was April 5, 14 days after the massive landslide in the nearby community of Oso, and it was painfully apparent that no more survivors would emerge from the mud that had wiped out a neighborhood there.
That ground is now hallowed, Samish Nation general manager Leslie Eastwood said, and she sang “Amazing Grace” in the Samish language, an offering of hope for a hurting community: “Through many dangers, toils and snares / I have already come; ‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far / and Grace will lead me home.”
And so it went that evening in the Tulalip Tribes Gymnasium. It was a fundraiser for the victims and families of the landslide, but it was more than that: It was a gathering to help people—Native and non-Native alike, from Tulalip and from the region—come together and begin to heal.
The side of an 800-foot hill above the Stillaguamish River had calved on March 22, sending a tsunami of soil racing over the river and a state highway and into a neighborhood, leaving in its wake a debris field of one square mile. As of April 8, the death toll was at 33; 12 people are listed as missing.
At the Tulalip event, children blanketed Snohomish County Fire Chief Travis Hots, who has been overseeing the rescue and recovery effort. He recalled the moment he became aware of the magnitude and scope of the landslide: When the call came, one of his firefighters told him his home was in that area and asked if he could go check on his family. Later, the firefighter was carried back to the command post by two colleagues; his family was gone.
Many people in the gym that evening know that pain of loss. Natosha Gobin, Tulalip, who organized this fund-raiser, said she was taught—as many Tulalip children are taught—about the deadly landslide in the 1820s on nearby Camano Island that destroyed a village and sent a killer tsunami to another island.
Tomorrow is not a promise, she said. And when tragedy strikes, there is no barrier between peoples and communities. We’re all in it together, and we have to help each other get through it.
“This tragedy has brought people from all over together,” Gobin said of Oso, adding that at Tulalip, “we live in a tight-knit community, and when tragedy occurs we come together to offer whatever talent, whatever abilities we have to help. In our Native community, we’re used to that. It’s ingrained within us.”
There was a lot of symbolism this evening.
The fire chief’s young nephew, Tulalip citizen KC Hots, opened the event with a prayer in the Lushootseed language. He thanked the Creator for the day and for the table, symbolic of the fact that each day we live, we have much to be thankful for.
Drummers and singers offered traditional songs, medicine for a hurting community. On the floor, children danced, symbolic of the fact that life is worth celebrating.
Elders offered some classic hymns, each one telling a story: that we don’t walk alone through life’s dangers, toils and snares; that this life is fleeting but is followed by a life that cannot be wiped away by landslide or other catastrophe of nature or mankind’s doing.
“Just a few more weary days, and then I’ll fly away,” the women sang. “To a land where joy shall never end, I’ll fly away.”
Geraldine Williams, Tulalip, conveyed in her offering of song: “The message is to be ready, because we never know. We have to have our hearts right with God.”
Norene Warbus, whose husband is Tulalip, worked for four days with her children—Kyren, 13, Taylee, 10, and Kaylyn, 6—making fancy cupcakes for the fundraiser’s concessions area. Kyren said his uncle is a U.S. Air Force reservist who helped in the search and rescue at Oso. Kyren, who manned a table selling cupcakes, said he too wanted to do something to help.
And help he did. All told, the three-hour event raised more than $3,000 for funds that have been established to assist families, for search and rescue, for local fire stations close to the landslide, and for animal shelters caring for orphaned pets. Attendees donated $700 at the door and bought $1,100 in raffle tickets, $900 in concessions, $354 in desserts, and donated food and blankets.
“I am humbled by all this help,” Fire Chief Hots said, adding that donors have delivered supplies by the carload and truckload to support rescue and recovery volunteers who have been working unceasingly at the landslide area since March 22.
The April 5 event at Tulalip was one of several fundraisers being held in the region to assist victims and families. Earlier, the Tulalip Tribes donated $100,000 to the American Red Cross of Snohomish County and $50,000 to the Cascade Valley Health Foundation to assist with the relief effort in Oso. Other Northwest Native governments have made significant contributions to the relief effort. In addition, Hots said his department’s command vehicle and an aid car were purchased with funds donated earlier by the Tulalip Tribes.
WAYS TO HELP
Donations can be sent to the American Red Cross, Snohomish County chapter. Visit www.redcross.org or call 425-252-4103.