Young Tulalip hunter shares first deer kill with community

By Gale Fiege
Seattle, Washington (AP) 11-09

Bagging his first deer was a rite of passage for 13-year-old Josh Hamilton. After bringing home the three-point buck, Josh had another tradition to honor.

During October, the young Tulalip tribal member climbed warily out of his grandfather’s truck in the middle of Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood.

A shy Totem Middle School eighth-grader, Josh was greeted on the sidewalk by staff and clients of the Chief Seattle Club, a nonprofit organization that provides support to about 200 low-income and homeless urban American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Josh was there to give away his butchered deer to help feed the people who frequent the club’s day shelter. He helped unload coolers of venison from the truck and carried the meat to the club’s kitchen.

“Our tradition is that when a boy gets his first deer, he must give it away to those who would appreciate the help,” Josh’s mother, Andrea Hamilton, said as she watched her son. “Josh knows his grandpa brings fish to the Chief Seattle Club, so he wanted to give his deer to our people here on the streets.”

Tall for his age, Josh accepted hugs, handshakes and high-fives from men who called him “brother.”

The Rev. Patrick Twohy, a Catholic priest who ministered for many years on the Tulalip and Swinomish reservations, asked the people gathered to accept Josh’s gift to form a circle in the lobby of the club.

Josh, who lives with his family in Tulalip, has known “Father Pat” since he was a little boy and was happy to see the priest, who now splits his time between Chief Seattle Club and Tacoma’s Mount Tahoma Indian Center.

Following another tradition, Chief Seattle’s executive director Jenine Grey, a young Tlingit woman, pinned a blanket around Josh as one of the elderly men in the circle sang and kept a beat on his deerskin drum.

“We are humbled and honored by your gift,” Grey said. “It will nourish the bodies and spirits of people who don’t often have the chance to eat traditional foods. In this urban world where we live, a gift like this will bring tears to their eyes.”

Josh’s grandfather, longtime Marysville School Board director Don Hatch, said he hoped the deer meat and the fresh fish and smoked salmon he brought along would be received as medicine by people at the club. He also praised the Tulalip Tribes and his friends and relatives who helped prepare the food for delivery to Chief Seattle Club.

“And thank you for taking our gift,” Hatch told the group. “I hope this is a day Josh will remember forever.”

The brief ceremony concluded with prayer and a round of thank-yous in several native languages.

Josh raised his hands in thanks and smiled.

“It’s good to be able to help out our Indian family in Seattle, people who don’t have a place to stay,” Josh said. “And it’s an honor to get the blanket from the elders here.”

At 6 feet tall and more than 200 pounds, Josh has a tribal name, KweKwaWeChud, that doesn’t seem to fit. It means “Little Elk.”

After one of the men at the shelter gave Josh a red-and-black dreamcatcher to hang in his bedroom, the boy said his dream is to be a professional baseball, basketball or football player.

For now, though, Josh is a hunter.

Steve Hamilton had taken his son Josh hunting many times. Hamilton, a Muckleshoot, hunts early in the season to stock up for the large meals following funerals and special ceremonies on the Tulalip Reservation.

“You have to give to get,” he told Josh.

Hamilton taught Josh that animals sacrifice their lives to feed the people, and that every bit of the animal must have a purpose. A craftsman, he uses the hooves for ceremonial regalia and the hides for drums.

“The deer lives on as long as the drum beats,” Hamilton said.

In the high hills east of Arlington last Friday, Josh asked for his dad’s permission to shoot his first deer while out during the tribal hunting season.

The kill was quick, with a shot right to the heart.

“I was excited and very happy for the gift,” Josh said.