Journey arrives singing and drumming

 - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

Every year, with an enormous effort from canoe pullers around Puget Sound, Canada and Alaska, Native American tribes up and down the shores of the Pacific Northwest gather and celebrate the rekindling of their heritage and share their cultures.

The 18th annual Tribal Journeys arrived at Point Julia Monday and Tuesday, and pullers made their way to downtown Suquamish Wednesday. This year, all the tribal canoes will be finishing the trip at the Lummi Reservation in Whatcom County, joined by pullers, their family and friends.

Canoes from both the Port Gamble S’Klallam and the Suquamish tribes departed this week to join the journey after hosting their own celebrations to welcome the travelers.

Port Gamble S’Klallam

Colorful tents and pavilions lined the road to the Point Julia beach, where hundreds of people were waiting for the remaining canoes to arrive Tuesday afternoon. Several pulled in to Little Boston a day early because of bad weather, some even being trailered by the different tribes’ vans or trucks to avoid the stormy Puget Sound.

The rainy weather had dissipated by Tuesday afternoon, which dawned overcast but cleared up in time for the welcoming ceremony and clam bake. Several of the nearly 40 canoes that arrived at Point Julia early were placed back into the water for the official welcome, having spent Monday night on the shore.

“I’ve been involved since it first started many years ago,” said Quileute tribal member Roland Black. “I like watching family come in on the canoes. I have relatives, nieces and nephews that are pullers.”

The incoming canoes and pullers were greeted by Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal Council members and elders along the shore, while family, friends and bystanders waited on the beach, waving at pullers they recognized and anticipating the moment when they would be reunited again. Each canoe crew asked permission to come ashore and share food and celebrate with the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. Each request was granted and crews were welcomed with applause and drumming.

“I’m looking forward to Lummi, there are going to be 100 canoes there,” said Little Boston resident and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribal member Tiffany Seachord. “All the people from the different tribes in one place all at once is incredible. And seeing all the canoes, I like that, that’s really neat.”

Port Gamble S’Klallam tribal member Leslie Purser has participated in the journey before, and was at Point Julia Tuesday to welcome the other pullers. She said all the tribes coming together makes the event stand out from others every year.

“It’s really special to the people who participate, it means a lot to the people who are a part of it,” said Port Gamble S’Klallam health services manager Lou Schmitz. “It’s about fun, it’s about sharing cultural experiences and it’s about respect.”


The pullers didn’t have far to paddle for their next stop, arriving at the Suquamish “slab” at about 3 p.m. Wednesday. The beach, boat ramp and downtown area were overflowing with the same friends and family from the day before, with the addition of the Port Gamble S’Klallam canoe families.

Salt Lake City resident Jennifer Lowe was enjoying the heritage and listening to the stories being shared by other visitors along the Suquamish beach and boat ramp. Her husband is from Suquamish, and she said participating in Tribal Journeys was proving to be a fun experience.

“I’ve been here about an hour, and the day’s going wonderfully and everyone’s in a good mood,” said Suquamish tribal member and Port Orchard resident Dawn Nichols. “I’ve been to two now, and my favorite part is when the canoes ask permission to come onto the land.”

Suquamish tribal member Nigel Lawrence departed with the Suquamish crews Thursday morning as the 40 or so canoes started

on the next leg of the journey to Mukilteo. He has been involved with Tribal Journeys from the beginning, pulling in the 1989 Paddle to Seattle that kick started Tribal Journeys. He was just 10 years old.

“It was a really short trip, just over to the other side of the water,” he said. “I mean, for Paddle to Seattle we just had our little racing canoes.”

Lawrence was also a puller in the Paddle to Bella Bella, British Columbia in 1993 when he was 14, paddling all the way up to Canada and back. It took his crew about two months, and he said it was an amazing trip all around. Participating in Tribal Journeys now is much different, and many of the crews don’t paddle home because they have to return to jobs and their families.

“Everywhere we went back in ‘93, all the elders told us canoes had not been in their area for more than 100 years and now they were back,” Lawrence said. “Back then, ours was the first group, and since it’s gotten bigger and bigger. It’s really nice. For Bella Bella, there were just 24 canoes there all together. Now it’s grown so large, it’s just amazing.”

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