In recent days, our coastal Salish people have experienced a terrible tragedy in the shooting that took place at Marysville-Pilchuck High School. A 14-year-old shot five of his classmates and then turned the gun on himself. Four of the victims died and one remains in serious condition. The shooter also died. To tell something of this story requires a need for context. Our Northwest Coastal tribes share so much in common. We are a people of the ocean and its resources. We are also a people with common bloodlines. Whenever our people travel to one of the many coastal tribes for activities, we are reminded of how we are related. (I personally have three different Salish bloodlines.) Many people in Neah Bay, then, are related to the families who lost loved ones in this senseless tragedy.
Tribal Journeys, an annual gathering of all of the coastal tribes in the Northwest, bring our coastal people together in a strong cultural setting where family ties across tribal lines are celebrated and reinforced. One story that comes out of the last Tribal Journey connects with this tragedy. It involves one of the men in our congregation, Paul, who is captain of the oil recovery vessel in Neah Bay. Paul has a 50-foot vessel that he used as a support boat for Tribal Journeys. Jaylen Fryberg, the 14-year-old who shot his classmates and himself, was one of the young men on one of the Tulalip canoes.
Paul recalls that it had been a difficult day of paddling in rough waters. Swells made it impossible for canoes to land as evening approached, so Jaylen’s canoe family spent the night aboard his yacht. Paul remembers the many questions that Jaylen asked and how he showed a real interest in his yacht. It is difficult to recall memories of someone who only recently expressed his passion for life on the ocean and then for this tragedy to take place. The future could’ve been so different.
So, what is always so perplexing in these situations is the huge question of WHY? Jaylen was popular, not a disgruntled outsider. He was named homecoming prince and was an athlete who had many friends. Those whom he shot were close friends and family. They were all beautiful kids with a bright future now tragically cut short.
I find myself grieving alongside members of my congregation, with Neah Bay and the surrounding communities. But as their pastor, I act as their sounding board as they express their sorrow and dismay as well as their hurt and their concern. I share the comfort of the Gospel with them and we pray.
Another member of our congregation traveled to Tulalip with others in her family to help out however they could. June is a respected elder and voice for the Makah people at tribal events. She has faithfully served her people for years as both emcee and cook for huge dinners that are always part of gatherings.
As her van and group were traveling to Tulalip, June received a call, informing her that the cook for the events surrounding the funerals and family gatherings had just quit. Would she help cook, they asked. June’s answer was, “Of course!” Little did she know that’d she’d be cooking for 1,000 to 1,500 people. June had opportunity to share with various family members of the Fryberg family and be sounding board and voice of support.
This is just part of the culture in Indian country. There is a desire to help and bring peace and support from one tribal family to another. The pain is so great for those who have lost their young ones. The hurt and questions and anger are understandably present, but there is also tremendous community support for those who have suffered this loss.
Those from our part of Indian country want the world to know that this one disturbing incident doesn’t define who we are. Please continue to hold us up in your prayers. It breaks my heart every time I have to participate in a young person’s funeral because of suicide or a drug overdose. Our Native people have such great, untapped potential. The story of God’s work through the Native American world has yet to truly unfold.
When June was in Tulalip, she also spoke with Jaylen’s grandfather. He and his family feel they are walking on glass right now since the community is so angry. There have been death threats. Anger is part of the grieving process. We pray that those strong feelings are not acted upon. Marysville-Pilchuck High School was going to forfeit their recent playoff game, but the opposing team said, “No, we’re going to give you the victory of this game.” Even the Seahawks had the M-P emblem on their helmets. So, the greater Seattle area is reaching out in support in many different ways.
I am reaching out to you as well with the hope that you will pray for the one survivor of this shooting; for all the families of the victims, including Jaylen’s; the Tulalip Tribe; students at Marysville-Pilchuck High School; and my congregation at Makah Lutheran Church in Neah Bay.
Vicar Winston Wilson, Neah Bay, WA
"... I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them" (Isaiah 42:16b).
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