Finding Healing in Tradition


Justin Jackson and Scoty Sam participate in the Coastal Jam Out October 27, 2022

Living on a reservation means you go to more funerals than weddings. Life on the rez, like any other place, has a positive side, but also a very dark, negative and hurtful side.
Drugs, alcohol, death. All different ages have to deal with this trauma. Many people on the reservations suffer from addiction or severe depression.
We do get some back from their dark places: the ones ready to face and overcome their troubles by being a part of our culture. Seeking help, whether it’s treatment, work, or participation in traditions, is very important if you are willing to take a step towards sobriety.
As natives, we were always taught to look to our elders for knowledge and help when we are going through hard times.
Since the beginning, the water is one place we were taught to go when we are troubled. “Go sit by the water, wash your face,” we were always told. Our elders spoke the truth. There are those moments when you stop to realize you’re truly lost, and you know things are bad on the inside. You can feel the breeze on your skin as you try to pull yourself together by the water.
Yes, there are many who didn’t listen and are still lost in the world and in their diseases. Those who act like they don’t want help, or act like they have it all figured out. These are the ones who need the most help and support that they can get.
Medallions, Stick games, coastal jam outs, and Blessing of the Fleet are all different parts of the culture that natives hold dearly to their hearts. We can turn to all these things for healing and happiness instead of turning to the world. It’s something about being together with so many different communities, with so much family all over the place, coming together and carrying on traditions. When you’re out in the world, you’re looking for something: an escape, a cover, anything. You’re trying to find a way out of the darkness on your own. But many of us know that when you stick to our culture and go to stick games, smokehouse jam outs, or whatever it is that you’re involved with, you don’t need to look to the world to save you. We don’t need to be saved. We heal, support and grow within our culture.
Stick games is an event that both young and old play. Different teams are each given a set of ‘bones,’ plain and marked, which are concealed in the hands. The opponent has to guess which hand is concealing the plain or marked bone. There are scoring sticks that are lost or received, depending on the accuracy of the guesswork. The objective is to win all the sticks, which could take minutes, hours, even days.
“With stick games this year, I just found my group I can sit and sing with, because before that I was never really around sitting and playing. When stick games is coming up, I’m just so excited to see that group,” says Leele Mathias, a junior at Sedro Woolley High School.
Mathias mentions that it’s important to have a group with whom you can sing, learn songs, and play your heart out. There are many different opinions when it comes to stickgames. Some only see it as gambling, and don’t see how it helps others stay out of trouble. But stickgames, being able to have fun drumming and singing with your group, is a chance for healing.
“It’s like a big family reunion,” said Buddy Lawrence, a sophomore from Lummi Nation High School.
When we gather together for coastal jams, stick games, and any of our cultural gatherings, we can feel the strength when one is singing. The beat of our drums fills our hearts with so much peace. Together we do the things we love, drumming, singing, and sharing stories from our individual journeys.
These traditions bring us closer to our loved ones, keep our bonds strong, and, most importantly, keep our people together.