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A journey’s end marks a tradition’s rebirth

SUQUAMISH — Within the spirit of the 1,000 year-old tree, young carvers uncovered a canoe. Within the canoe they discovered lost traditions of their tribe. And within themselves they found the courage to transform their lives.

Saturday, six young canoe carvers were honored, and their creation — a 37-foot cedar canoe — was blessed by the Suquamish Tribe.

It made a short ceremonial voyage from downtown Suquamish to the beach near the tribal center where the day-long celebration took place.

“We made that, we carved that with our hands,” said Erik Alexander, 18, as he looked over at the sleek, black perfect canoe.

The canoe was carried up the hill and set down on fragrant cedar branches from the tree it was carved from.

The three-month Full Circle Canoe Carving project was done in conjunction with the Squamish Tribe in North Vancouver and under the guidance of Ray Natrell, a master carver.

“You think about the canoe and only the canoe,” Natrell said about the process.

“What you bring with you is what you put in to the canoe,” he added. The name which sounds like SEE-EM AH OAT KS, are the native words meaning “honorable canoe.”

The tree, 7-feet wide at the base and 4-feet wide at the top, gave its life to resurrect a tradition within the tribe. The carvers, all tribal members, said that was their primary goal when they joined the group. But during the carving process, they experienced another benefit from their new found knowledge.

“It made me understand a lot of things about the culture. It’s awesome,” Raymond Pondelick, 18, a Spectrum Community School student said.

Pondelick said before the Full Circle Canoe Project, he was involved with alcohol and drugs. Now it’s a different story.

“If you can have culture over drugs and alcohol I’d choose culture anytime,” he said.

The most memorable part of his and the canoe’s journey Pondelick said was “when we first put it in the water in Canada. The first stroke.”

Fellow carver James Anderson, 19 agreed. He described how the project has changed him.

“I see things a lot better,” he said. “Patience, I have a lot of that nowadays.”

Natrell, a Squamish member felt like he accomplished his mission, which for him was bittersweet

“It’s sad. It’s here and I’m at home so far away from her,” Natrell said about the canoe. “This is the end for me. This is the beginning for them of good things to come.”

The canoe will travel later this summer to Quinalt as part of the Suquamish Tribe’s annual canoe journey.

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