2011 Canoe Journey: Canoes and culture come to North Kitsap

PORT GAMBLE S’KLALLAM — There is much about each Canoe Journey landing that participants and observers have come to expect: the colorful canoes and carved paddles, the songs carried on the air signaling the arrival of each canoe, the languages of skippers asking for permission to land, the joy of reuniting with family and friends, the scent of baked clams or smoked salmon mingling with the salt air.

And yet, each Canoe Journey is unique in its own way.

Like Bryson King, 15, standing in the Quileute Tribal School canoe “Sea Wolf,” singing a welcome song in his language before the Sea Wolf’s skipper asks permission for pullers to come ashore.

And first-time puller Jose Jackson, 14, of Quileute’s Os-Chuck-A-Bick canoe family, describing a 60-mile pull on one leg of the journey as “fun.”

And Jesse Kowoosh, standing in Lee-Choe-Eese, a Queets canoe carved by his late grandfather, telling of pulling to honor his forebear.

Port Gamble S’Klallam Chairman Jeromy Sullivan said the newness — and the beauty — of the journey each year is the young people who get involved for the first time.

“There are a lot more youth involved. It’s always going to be a learning experience,” Sullivan said Wednesday on the beach at Point Julia, as canoes arrived from Northwest Coast Native nations from the Pacific Coast, Olympic Peninsula, Hood Canal and the west coast of Vancouver Island.

“I was telling my son and daughter yesterday as we stood in the rain greeting seven to eight canoes, ‘Imagine how our ancestors used to work. They hunted, they fished, they gathered no matter the weather. They had to go when the season was right.’ We couldn’t complain because of some drizzle.”

Even in July.

Canoes began arriving at Port Gamble S’Klallam on Tuesday, a day earlier than expected, but Sullivan said Port Gamble S’Klallam was ready with a welcoming party and a spaghetti dinner.

All told, Port Gamble S’Klallam expected to host up to 30 canoes and 1,000 people Wednesday night. A clam bake began at 4 p.m. Dinner was to follow at 6 p.m. at the tribal center in Little Boston, followed by protocol — with honoring and sharing of dances, drumming and songs — in the longhouse.

Shuttles transported people between Point Julia and parking and camping areas near S’Klallam’s Gliding Eagle Market Place. Host homes provided laundry and showers.

Breakfast was scheduled for Thursday at 5 a.m. Canoes were scheduled to depart Point Julia on Thursday morning, round Foulweather Bluff and travel south to Suquamish. There they will join canoe families pulling north from Muckleshoot, Nisqually, Puyallup and Squaxin Island. Canoes from throughout the Pacific Northwest wll converge on the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, near La Conner, July 25-31.

Suquamish expects to host 1,200 people. At Swinomish, that number will swell to an estimated 15,000.

The Canoe Journey started in 1989 to revive a traditional form of travel on the ancestral highways of the coastal Pacific Northwest. Every year, more than 100 indigenous canoes travel from their territories to a host nation, with stops at indigenous territories along the way, for celebration and cultural sharing.

Indigenous languages are spoken on the journey, particularly at the canoe landings when skippers ask hosts for permission for pullers to come ashore, and at evening ceremonies when dances and songs are shared.

Pulling long distance in a canoe requires emotional, physical and spiritual fitness; pledges to be alcohol-free, drug-free and, in many cases, smoke-free, are required. That’s had a tremendous impact on younger pullers.

Ancestral songs often return out on the water. On Jan. 29 at Samish Indian Nation’s Fidalgo Bay Resort, Samish opened the Canoe Journey skippers meeting with a song that came to Rosie Cayou’s son on the water during the 2002 Canoe Journey.

“It was delivered to my son to bring home,” Cayou explained at the time. “Although he has two homes, Swinomish and Samish, he got a message from the ancestors to bring the song home to Samish.”

The art of canoe carving has received a new breath of life; the Journey features beautiful cedar canoes carved by a new generation of Native carvers.

The Canoe Journey is proving to be an effective tool for measuring the health of the Salish Sea. Since 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey has equipped five canoes with probes that collect data about pH levels, salinity, temperature, turbidity and dissolved oxygen in the water. Coast Salish leaders hope continued data collection will them help identify signs of climate change, impacts from development, and changes in the levels and types of nutrients and pollutants washing into the sea. That information could help them solve such mysteries as the loss of eelgrass, which provides habitat for fish on which salmon prey.

And the participation of indigenous peoples from around the world has grown each year. Among the participants in the 2010 Journey: Ainu, Greenlanders, Hawai’ians, Maori, Tlingit and Yup’ik.

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,” Karen Platt of the Suquamish Olalla Neighbors said in an earlier interview. “They work in our communities and have children in our schools.”

Platt is coordinating volunteers for Suquamish’s hosting, which begins with the canoes' arrival Thursday afternoon, followed by dinner at the House of Awakened Culture at 6 p.m. Suquamish Olalla Neighbors host a potluck dinner July 22, 5 p.m., at the House of Awakened Culture.

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

About that young puller Jose Jackson of Quileute. How did he prepare for his first journey? “You’ve got to get good sleep, get a good meal, and stretch before you get out there,” he said.

Two of the things he likes about the journey: “It’s a chance to represent where you’re from and to show what you’re made of.” 

-- Slideshow by Tad Sooter of the North Kitsap Herald


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