Welcome To Lummi Nation: Where Basketball Is Part Of The Family Culture

Every Whatcom County basketball team plays for its school. Some even play for their towns. But only two play not only for their school and community, but for their tribe and their culture.

Welcome to Lummi Nation boys and girls basketball.

“We’re a very proud community, with strong ties to our culture,” said Jerome Toby, the Lummi Nation boys coach for the past 12 years. “We’re proud to be Blackhawks.”

That pride was on display Tuesday night for a doubleheader in the Lummi gym. The Lady Blackhawks defeated Tulalip Heritage, 41-17, and in a 1B Northwest League showdown, the Lummi Nation boys beat the Hawks, 61-58.
The games were in the spotlight, but basketball is just part of what makes watching the Blackhawks a great experience.

Be sure to check out more pictures from both the Lummi boys and girls games on the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page. And be sure to like it and share it with your friends.

There was the personal welcome to everyone by tribal elder “Uncle Smitty” Hillaire, the singing of the tribe’s “national anthem” by the great nieces and great nephews of superfans Uncle Smitty and Aunt Luty Hillaire, and the honoring of the giant Lummi tribal flag and U.S. flag at the beginning of the game.

And where other schools might have their alma maters written on the gym walls, Lummi has a huge painting illustrating the words written in the Lummi language of the tribe’s proud heritage:

My highly respected people. We come from the survivors of the Great Flood. Come together my Indian people and stand strong. I am a survivor of the Great Flood.

“It’s a great experience (playing basketball at Lummi),” said first-year Lummi girls coach Kevin Day, who grew up in the Swinomish tribe near LaConner. “It’s more than just basketball; it’s the culture. We want them to be proud of this place. The elders fought for this school.”

“It’s about being a tribe, a community a culture,” said Toby. “It’s not only us but all the tribal schools.”

The camaraderie between the two schools was evident in the way the players treated each other, the encouragement the announcer gave to both teams throughout both games, and the respect the coaches and fans had for each other.

“When it’s a tribal school, it’s basically all family,” said junior Caleb Revey, the team captain who has been playing for the Blackhawks since he was an eighth-grader. “We’re all battling to win. But we’re all cousins and best friends.”
Toby agreed, noting that the Lummis were especially close to the Tulalips because of their close proximity being just outside of Marysville.

“When we play another tribal team, we support them and they support us,” said Toby, who was a standout for Ferndale High School in the mid-1990s before Lummi Nation was built. “We compete on the court, but afterward we’ll talk hunting and fishing.

“Tulalip and Lummi have always been rivals. It’s a lot of fun to play them. Tonight was another classic game.”

That it was. Both Lummi Nation and Tulalip Heritage were rated in the top five among 1B schools and came into the game with only one loss each, Lummi’s coming in the third game of the season at Tulalip, 75-66.

This time the Blackhawks took control from the beginning, never trailing and leading by as much as 16 points in the third quarter when the Hawks’ star sophomore, Alonzo Jones-Smith, had to sit with foul trouble.

But the Hawks kept battling back, finally closing to within one with 12 seconds remaining. But when they were forced to foul, they fouled the wrong Blackhawk as Justin Mahle hit both ends of the one-and-one with 10 seconds left and Tulalip couldn’t hit a tying 3-pointer.

“We weren’t worried,” said Revey afterward with a smile. 

“They made a run like all good teams do,” said Tobey, again with respect for his opponent. “They could have quit, but they showed why they’re the fourth-ranked team in the state.”

But for now the Hawks will be ranked behind the Blackhawks (15-1 overall and 12-1 in league).

Toby’s freshman son, Duncan, had four 3-pointers and 14 points to lead Lummi despite leaving with an injured knee late in the game. Revey and another freshman, big Tyran Lane, added 12 each. Mahle made 6 of 8 important free throws for 9 points and Tristian Revey added 7 to the Blackhawks’ attack.

Jones-Smith finished with 23 to lead Tulalip Heritage (14-2 overall and 12-1 in league).

The girls game was nowhere near as close as the Lady Blackhawks scored the first 10 points of the game, shut out the Hawks in the first quarter and didn’t let the Hawks reach double figures until midway through the third quarter.

And before you accuse the Blackhawks of running up the score, note that Day played his bench most of the game, including two eighth-graders. Sophomore Alayna Solomon muscled inside for a game-high 10 points, and senior Shelby-Rae Jacobs and sophomore Rian Greene added 6 each to the balanced Lummi scoring.

The victory leaves Lummi in second place (6-3 in league and 6-4 overall) behind Grace Academy. Tulalip fell to 2-7 and 3-10.

“We don’t want to be in the shadow of the boys team,” said senior point guard Dezirae Toby, Jerome’s daughter. “We want to make a difference (in the girls program). We want to have more youth coming out to play.”

While the boys have a strong tradition, including being the first tribal school in the state’s history to win a state championship (2015) and taking second in 2017, the Lummi girls haven’t been to state since 2012, the last of five state appearances in six years.

“We’ve built the boys program,” said Day, who has done his part as assistant to Toby the past 12 years. “Now we want to start the girls going.”

For the 1B Northwest League standings and all the scores, visit www.nwbathletics.com.


Tribal elder “Uncle Smitty” Hillaire welcomes everyone and introduces the tribe’s national anthem.


A sign in the Lummi language tells of the tribe’s proud heritage as survivors of the Great Flood.


A huge painting depicts the tribal story of the survivors of the Great Flood.


A team picture under the scoreboard is a reminder of the great 1B boys state championship team of 2015.


Coach Kevin Day watches as senior point guard Dezirae Toby looks for another assist.


The Lummi girls are all smiles after Tuesday night’s big win.


Tulalip’s Joshua Iukes (22) shows respect for Lummi’s Caleb Revey by offering a helping hand.


Justin Mahle eyes the hoop before sinking the two game-clinching free throws for Lummi.


Lummi basketball certainly is a family affair for boys coach Jerome Toby and his young daughter.


Jim Carberry of Whatcom Hoops

Jim Carberry is a former Bellingham Herald sports editor and author of several books on Whatcom County prep basketball. Follow him on Twitter @whatcomhoops and visit the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page.

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