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Published: Sunday, November 27, 2011, 12:01 a.m.

Healthy changes grew from Tulalip teen's work

  • Dallas Duplessis, 14, with her grandmother, Joan Duplessis, at their Tulalip home. Dallas will visit the White House as one of 11 winners of a Native ...

    Julie Muhlstein / The Herald

    Dallas Duplessis, 14, with her grandmother, Joan Duplessis, at their Tulalip home. Dallas will visit the White House as one of 11 winners of a Native American Youth Challenge essay contest. The teen's essay focuses on healthful eating and helping her grandmother cope with diabetes.

She's just 14, but Dallas Duplessis has a grown-up goal. She wants to become the first tribal member to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Later this week, she'll be close enough to see that lofty place in person.
The Tulalip teen will be honored at the White House on Thursday as one of 11 winners of a Native American Youth Challenge essay contest.
Her winning topic grew from personal experience. In her essay titled "I am a Seed for Change," Dallas wrote: "On my reservation, many Native Americans have unhealthy eating habits. I want to change that."
At the family's dining room table Friday, Dallas was joined by her parents, Bernard and Sandra Duplessis, her 11-year-old brother Bernard, and by her grandmother.
It was Joan Duplessis, Dallas' 73-year-old grandmother, who deepened the girl's belief in healthful eating and spreading the nutrition message. The older woman has diabetes, has suffered a stroke, and uses a wheelchair.
Since moving in with the family more than a year ago, her blood pressure and blood sugar levels have improved. "My family helped her by eating fresh foods, praying, and best of all laughing together," Dallas wrote in her winning essay.
They didn't make those changes alone. Dallas is involved in a group called Gardening Together as Families.
Early this year, with Hibulb Cultural Center & Natural History Preserve Director Hank Gobin among the organizers, the Gardening Together group planted a Tulalip community garden. The effort was part of a Grow Your Groceries program, sponsored by Washington State University Extension-Snohomish County.
Veronica Leahy, a program assistant with the Tulalip Health Clinic Diabetes Program, worked with the gardeners, along with Inez Bill, a curator at the cultural center, and other tribal members. Snohomish County Master Gardeners also lent their expertise.
Inspired by her work with the community garden, Dallas started a Tulalip Youth Gardeners Club. She helped teach children about gardening at the Tulalip Boys & Girls Club. "At the Evergreen State Fair we won 10 ribbons," she said.
The Duplessis family also grew produce in their back yard at Priest Point.
"Gardening Together as Families made a real change in our hearts," Bernard Duplessis said. A Tulalip tribal member who has Tlingit ancestry, he said the experience has put the family in touch with a rich heritage. One of his ancestors, he said, was an early 20th century Alaska Native healer and shaman.
In our time, too, he said, "people need to look to one another for healing, by eating and sharing and being together."
Sandra Duplessis, Dallas' mother, is not an American Indian. She said her roots can be traced to the Winslow clan that came from England on the Mayflower.
The essay contest was part of a Champions of Change program, part of President Barack Obama's Winning the Future initiative. Different issues and groups -- teachers, entrepreneurs and activists -- have been recognized for work in their communities.
Dallas' visit will coincide with the White House Tribal Nations conference. A freshman at Marysville Getchell High school, she is the youngest of the essay winners. Her whole family will make the trip back east.
On their dining room table Friday, where the day before they shared Thanksgiving dinner, was a book called "Washington, D.C. With Kids." A peek at the Supreme Court building is definitely on the itinerary.
"I'm so excited," Dallas said. "I want to use this opportunity to inspire other kids."
There's a taste of that in her essay: "Our goal is not to be couch potatoes, but to grow some potatoes."
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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