Regional tribes paddle through North Kitsap

LITTLE BOSTON — About 1,000 tired and sunburned paddlers, skippers and support teams from nearly 50 regional tribes shored up in Point Julia July 26 as part of a journey that is reminiscent of their ancestors.

Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish tribal members hosted these tribes during the Healing Through Unity Tribal Canoe Journey to Tulalip 2003.

Tribes stopped in Little Boston on Saturday and then made their way to Suquamish Sunday. They then left Suquamish Monday morning and paddled to Tulalip, the group’s final destination.

Since 1989, First Nations from the Northwest and British Columbia, Canada, have participated in an annual canoe journey during the summer months. Tribes paddle from community to community in fiberglass or handcarved wooden canoes over a two-week period in July and August. A three-day celebration takes place at the final destination — which changes every year.

The purpose of the journey is promote alcohol- and drug-free living within the Native American community while revisiting the native highways of the tribal ancestors.

A very-tired looking and tanned Squamish tribal member Ray Natrall, skipper for one of the Suquamish canoes, said Saturday that the past two weeks had been incredible.

This journey was a special one locally as it marked the maiden voyage of the Kalkallahalya, a red cedar canoe that Natrall and Suquamish Tribal members carved earlier this year.

“Kalkallahalya” means “killer whale,” in the Suquamish’s native language of Lushootseed.

“It did everything I wanted it to do,” Natrall said about the canoe’s performance. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Natrall’s group started its adventure in his native land, the Squamish Reservation in North Vancouver, and had paddled some 111 miles from Canada to Little Boston.

The Tana Stobes, Suquamish’s fiberglass boat, started in Neah Bay with only eight or nine pullers, said Nick Armstrong, the vessel’s skipper.

“It’s just celebrating coming together as one people,” Natrall said about the journey and celebration. “To travel our ancestors’ highways and practice being drug- and alcohol-free.”

As part of the protocol for arriving on other native lands, skippers from each tribe are required to ask for permission to come ashore during a welcoming ceremony.

“We are the Muckleshoot people,” yelled one Muckleshoot skipper from his canoe to the people standing on the shores of Little Boston. “We travel many miles. We are wet, tired and hungry. We wish to come to ashore.”

Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal Chairman Ron Charles then welcomed each group for a dinner prepared by the tribe for its guests.

Mary Jones, a puller with the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, said her group started in the Lower Elwha River to paddle with the other S’Klallam bands, the Lower Elwha and Jamestown S’Klallam tribes.

“We’ve been having a really good time,” she said, noting the paddlers from Port Gamble S’Klallam were primarily female this year. “We’ve been paddling for unity. I think (by) paddling together, we’ve started to achieve that a lot.”

She said there were some rough situations, such as canoes tipping over, but the group’s teamwork paid off.

“(Port Gamble Skipper) Mike Jones and all us girls made it through,” Mary Jones said. “We pulled together really hard. We kept power paddling through the breakwaters.”

On a personal level, the trip has been a therapeutic experience for her.

“It’s more like a healing journey for me,” Mary Jones said. “Just taking care of myself.”

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