Northwest Coast Native canoes arrive Wednesday at Port Gamble S’Klallam, Thursday at Suquamish

Many hands make light work: Carrying a canoe ashore at Point Julia during the 2010 Canoe Journey/Paddle to Makah.                                                                 - Brad Camp / 2010
Many hands make light work: Carrying a canoe ashore at Point Julia during the 2010 Canoe Journey/Paddle to Makah.
— image credit: Brad Camp / 2010

PORT GAMBLE S'KLALLAM — Swinomish is the final destination of this year’s Canoe Journey, but each stop along the way is as important as the next.

“Going to other tribal communities, even if they are out of the way, is a way of honoring their territory, and their elders and their ancestors,” Port Gamble S’Klallam canoe skipper Laura Price said.

Canoes from Northwest indigenous nations in British Columbia and Washington arrive at Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish beginning Wednesday, en route to the final destination in this year’s Canoe Journey, Swinomish.

The canoe landings and many of the cultural events that follow are open to the public.

Since the Paddle to Seattle in 1989, the Canoe Journey’s sphere of influence has grown to include the environment, economy and politics.

But the biggest impact has been in bolstering a culture that was threatened by assimilation policies, residential schools and bans on certain cultural practices in the 19th and 20th centuries.

At a skippers meeting earlier this year, Raymond Patrick Hillaire of the Lummi Indian Nation told of the healing that comes from the “never-ending flow of love” at each stop of the Canoe Journey. He told of the losses that the ancestors suffered — children lost to diseases, religious practices banned, villages destroyed. And yet, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren live, the languages are spoken, the songs are sung, and the culture survives.

“The ancestors are thankful for their children who are here today,” he said. “We start getting our strength back when we visit our friends and relatives, when we visit our territories. That hug, that acknowledgment that ‘I see you and I love you,’ is healing.”

The Canoe Journey is indeed like a family gathering, with the number of canoe families growing at each stop until the final destination.

Port Gamble S’Klallam expects to host up to 30 canoes and 1,000 people Wednesday night. Canoes will arrive at Point Julia from the Pacific Coast, Olympic Peninsula, Hood Canal and the west coast of Vancouver Island.

The tribe will hold clam bakes at the beach and above at the tribal center. Port Gamble S’Klallam is well-known among canoe families for its seafood feeds.

“A lot of people look forward to having fresh clams, because you can’t get them everywhere,” Price said.

Hosting communities feed hungry pullers (the preferred term for paddlers) and their ground crews, provide camping space, and showers and laundry when available.

Later in the day, canoe families gather for protocol ceremonies. They share their songs, drumming and dancing late into the night.

“It’s a huge responsibility and honor at the same time,” Price said of hosting. “We make sure everyone leaves with a full tummy and a happy heart.”

Canoes will depart Point Julia on Thursday morning, round Foulweather Bluff and travel south to Suquamish. There they will join canoe families pulling north from Squaxin Island, Nisqually, Puyallup and Muckleshoot.

Suquamish expects to host 1,200 people. At the final destination, Swinomish on July 25-31, that number will swell to an estimated 15,000.

“I enjoy getting into the water and being with the crew on the water, and then getting together ashore and seeing a lot of people who participate,” Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman. “It’s a good time to get caught up with the canoe families and see the new people who get involved.

“The Canoe Journey’s been great for unity among the young people. It’s brought an opportunity for young people to interact culturally in a healthy, safe environment.”

The Canoe Journey has done a lot to build bridges between the Native and non-Native communities as well. Exposure to cultural activities associated with the Journey has helped break down barriers and increase cultural understanding. Non-Native people now help raise money to support Canoe Journey hosting and volunteer at the events.

“It’s helped us see that although they are engaged in an ancient cultural tradition, they are still like you and me,” said Karen Platt of the Suquamish Olalla Neighbors. “They work in our communities and have children in our schools.”

Platt said Suquamish has been in the lead among Journey hosts in involving the non-Native community. Suquamish provided cultural training for volunteers in 2009 when it was the final destination of the Journey and hosted some 12,000 guests.

“What I’ve learned is the way they do things and direct things,” she said. “People just step up and take an area – kind of, this is something I’m capable of doing and I have the resources to do it.”

Platt is coordinating volunteers for Suquamish’s hosting.

“We’re asking for about 30 volunteers, passing out food and water bottles and (handling) recycling,” Platt said. “We’re going to have about 1,200 people to feed, so we’re asking people from the community and organizations to bring side dishes; the tribe provides the entrees and beverages.”

Platt said every year she is warmed by the community response: Jan and Doug Hall’s 250-400 cupcakes, the side dishes, the watermelons.

“I’ve been doing this for six years. It (warms) my heart to see all this food come out of nowhere.”

— To volunteer at Port Gamble S’Klallam, call Marie Hebert, 297-6241. To volunteer at Suquamish, call Platt at (206) 310-6096 or email


July 20

Noon: Canoes begin arriving at Port Gamble S’Klallam’s Point Julia; traditional clambake on the beach.

5 p.m.: At about 5 p.m., canoe families and the public are invited to a dinner in the tribal gym.

Evening: Presentations and protocol, Port Gamble S’Klallam longhouse.

Parking is available near The Point Casino and baseball field with shuttles to the beach and government center.


July 21

Morning: Canoes depart for Suquamish; time is tide-dependent.

1-3 p.m.: Canoes land at Jefferson Head for a rest before formal landing at Suquamish later in the afternoon.

Afternoon and evening: Presentations and protocol, House of Awakened Culture.

6 p.m.: Dinner, House of Awakened Culture.


July 22

Afternoon and evening: Presentations and protocol, House of Awakened Culture.

5 p.m.: Suquamish Olalla Neighbors potluck dinner, House of Awakened Culture.


July 23

Morning: Canoes depart for Tulalip; time is tide-dependent.

— By Tad Sooter and Richard Walker of the North Kitsap Herald

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