Tom Wooten, the tribal councilman for the Samish Nation for the last 16 years, has seen many trials and tribulations for those trying to preserve the natural history and preservation of Wooten’s Native American heritage and tradition, even during an unexpected and messy pandemic.
“It’s been a long year,” said Wooten, but that did not stop his track record of being the patriarch of the Tribal Council.
“I’ve been involved with the council for 24 years and the chairman for 16 and I can assure you, this pandemic was not the first and certainly may not be the last,” he said.
Family lineage and the history is the foundation for the Samish Nation and for many others, especially for the elders of their niche and delicate community. The knowledge and traditions are vital for their growth of their people, to maintain the heritage and it’s beliefs.
But due to COVID-19 and the dips in the shutdown and the economy [which has been more than spontaneous and uncertain] tried to prohibit their teachings.
Thanks to Microsoft and the platform “Teams,” Wooten and other tribal members in the community, not just on the island of San Juan, were able to be more connected than ever before.
“We used technology to keep up the business going and sent our people home with their smart phones and surfaces, their lap tops. We managed to keep the tribe in operations thanks to technology, so we could continue to do our traditional craft classes, drum making, singing, weaving.”
Wooten continued, “ Our staff even shifted a little and started putting kits together for different craft items out that they want to make; wherever they were at, you know, they would send the students kits and kept everyone speaking and telling stores, teaching, online.”
For many, the pandemic has done a number on people’s mental health, the isolation sometimes feeling overwhelming, especially those feeling trapped on the islands.
Wooten stated, “The most troubling thing about this whole thing was how we had to isolate and peoples mental health is not as good it could be, like some of our elders, the tribe is the only way they can communicate with these folks, they’re definitely are in dire need to meet and interact
He tells The San Juan Journal, “Family history is so important you know; to know where you come from.” He continued, “It was just a little over a year on a day like today, when we decided to follow our governors lead and send folks home. We Met with leadership and told folks to go home and stay home and wash their hands. I mean say what you will about the Governor,” Wooten joked, “But I truly think Governor Ensley did the right thing at the right time, to protect lives and followed suit. I mean, wow do you make your government function when you have a crisis like this? It is no easy task, for anyone.”
The online classes through Samish Nation are very educational and interactive, even online.
“The classes have been very popular, classes have expanded to every Wednesday and they all get together and talk about their cats, dogs, kids, the weather and make that personal connection.
Island people are very outgoing, and easy to talk to, the interaction, talking about the commonalties of our people, like living the island and through this process, we really not only want to keep that connection, but expand on it.”
He continued, “All this has really shown us how we can do certain things we could before like history classes that are shared like key points of Samish’s nation with the citizens—people are hungry for knowledge and we all have to know where we came from before we can move on, history talks, craft classes, have been a blessing,” said Wooten.
“History talks, you know? And what I have been trying to do, is making it personal so it is not just like a classroom so we are like sitting around the island around the fire, so we are talking about our history. The unique thing about Washington State last state for Indian people to be conquered through the lower 48.”
“This pandemic this is not the first time we have been faced with this, settlers brought these things with them. Unfortunately this is the world that we live in, and we will all have to change because of this. With “Teams,” we have been fortunate enough to be able to talk to our citizens, that is a blessing; it blossoms passed the pandemic and the epidemic and has really opened our eyes for those who aren’t just in Anacortes, or in the San Juan islands,” said Wooten.