When tragedy struck, Washington state boy found healing in a
By Rob Hotakainen, Tribune News Service
WASHINGTON — After losing his father to suicide in 2012, teenager Hamilton
Seymour said he wanted to find something positive in his life: He found
healing by paddling his canoe.
"It's my personal outlet," said Seymour, a 15-year-old member of the
Nooksack Indian Tribe from Bellingham, Wash. "It's where I can get away,
even if I'm with people."
Convinced that exercise is "a stress reliever" and the key to improving
mental health, Seymour now is pushing other members of his tribe to deal
with grief and celebrate their culture by carving canoes and singing
traditional Native songs as they paddle their way to fitness. His efforts
are gaining attention.
Seymour won a national award this year from the Center for Native American
Youth, he found the spotlight Thursday at the first White House Tribal Youth
Gathering, when he was picked to introduce Michelle Obama before her speech
to the group.
"It was just surreal," said Seymour.
An official in Obama's office said Seymour was chosen because his story
served as a "source of inspiration" for other Indian youths. But Seymour
speculated that there was another reason.
"I've been told they did a background check and they looked at our social
media," he said. "And I luckily only have Facebook and I don't post anything
vulgar, inappropriate or like just stupid stuff people post these days."
Seymour was one of five Indian youths from across the nation cited as a 2015
"champion for change" by the Center for Native American Youth, an award that
recognizes youths who are making a difference in their communities. Center
officials noted that while most adults are uncomfortable talking about such
issues as sexual abuse and suicide, Indian youth leaders are tackling the
issues head on.
Seymour, whose parents divorced when he was 6, said he didn't want to
discuss specifics of his father's suicide. But he said the act of violence
leaves survivors suffering.
Growing up, he said, he has learned that "you only get out of this world
what you put in," but he said he doesn't want to judge others who struggle.
He said many Indian kids are growing up in homes where parents are fighting
and the children aren't getting enough sleep or food.
"High school's tricky," he said. "You never really know what someone's going
said his application for the award focused on keeping culture alive through
traditional sports. As part of his project, he has lined up 11 other teens
to help him paddle canoes in races.
"What paddling is doing for us is getting us stronger — obviously
physically, but also mentally, spiritually and emotionally," he said. "It's
Seymour said paddling comes naturally to him, with the tradition strong on
both sides of his family.
He said his father, a Canadian Indian who was in his early 30s when he
committed suicide, was a champion paddler.
"He was a phenomenal man, and I'd like to carry out his name and his spirit
through paddling. ... I feel like paddling is only one of the few things
that I have left of him," Seymour said.
Some of Seymour's friends from Bellingham, who are also in the nation's
capital this week as part of various tribal youth events, said Seymour has
come a long way.
"I've known Hammi my whole life — he's our baby," said Sarah Scott, 21, a
mentor for the Lummi Nation's tribal youth recreation program. "In the last
year, he's just blossomed into this natural leader on a national platform,
and to me that is just so inspiring."
William Lucero, 18, another member of the Lummi Nation, said it was
remarkable to watch Seymour get a hug from the first lady.
"I was jealous," he said. "It's so cool."
Seymour, who will be a junior at Mount Baker High School in Deming, Wash.,
this fall, said it was a "once-in-a-lifetime experience" to share the stage
with the first lady.
"I didn't know she was that tall," he said.
When an announcer called his name, saying it was time to introduce the first
lady of the United States, Seymour said he temporarily lost his breath.
"I took one step and I felt all the oxygen just leave my body," he said. "I
got told to take three deep breaths. I did that, but my heart was pumping.
It was just so great."
Seymour figures his life is looking pretty bright, too.
"I can't tell the future, but I'm really hoping, and I really feel like it's
going to be great," he said.
Submitted by: Henrietta Wise