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Canoe carving project finally comes full circle

SUQUAMISH — For the past three months, youth from the Suquamish Tribe have journeyed through cultural waters to build a vessel that will carry them on the actual ones.

The Full Circle Canoe Carving Project, tribe members hope, will also carry on the Suquamish’s carving tradition to the next generation.

Beginning in October, a small group of tribal youth started the lengthy project under the guidance of Ray Natrell, who has worked with the Squamish Tribe in Vancouver. The group spent there weekdays carving a cedar canoe in North Vancouver and returned to their homes on the weekends. School-aged members were able to work out an agreement with the North Kitsap School District that provided school credit for the project.

But even greater than the lessons learned from shaping wood into a cultural mainstay for the tribe was how the experience has shaped the now carvers, said Chuck Wagner, director of the Suquamish Wellness Program.

“I have seen remarkable changes,” Wagner said as he described the participants. “They have brought a lot of honor to their families.”

Program participants were selected by a committee of elders, community members and Tribal Council members. They had to be at least 15 years old, Suquamish Tribal members and commit to not using tobacco, alcohol, or illegal substances. Five group members and five alternates were selected for the project.

The canoe carvers will be honored during a special blessing Jan. 5 at the Tribal Center in Suquamish.

The Full Circle Canoe project was first etched out a year and a half ago during the tribe’s summer canoe journey. More than 60 people attended the potlatch held in Songhees. Inspired by the event, the tribe made it a priority to create its own cedar canoe through a project developed by the Suquamish Tribe Cultural Co-op Committee.

While families within the tribe have their own canoes (made of fiberglass) and the Wellness Program has its own canoe, which will go this summer to Quinalt on the 2002 canoe journey, the Suquamish didn’t have a “community canoe.”

That’s what makes the Full Circle canoe unique, Wagner said, noting that the vessel can be used by all tribal members.

Throughout the Suquamish’s long history, the canoe was a vital piece of the tribe’s everyday life and existence. Despite this traditional usage, its use nearly vanished in recent years. During the past 25 years though, Northwest tribes have encouraged a resurgence of canoe carving and traditions.

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