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Tribes travel their ancestors’ highways

LITTLE BOSTON — The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe welcomed representatives of nearly a dozen Native American nations to its shores at Point Julia last weekend as part of this year’s annual canoe expedition, “Journey with our Ancestors.”

The event was one of many that are taking place throughout the Northwest this week. Towns and reservations along the inner coastal waters are playing host to the canoes and their pullers, who are making their way to Ladysmith, British Columbia for a large tribal canoe celebration next week. The journey is part of the Native American community’s step toward reviving the canoe culture that had been dead for about a century.

Last week, roughly a half a dozen tribes stopped in North Kitsap to rest, eat and reunite with other tribes. The Suquamish Tribe hosted pullers last Thursday while the Port Gamble S’Klallam nation welcomed them Saturday afternoon.

During the beginning of this week, the tribes stopped in Port Townsend and Port Angeles and are expected to cross the Strait of Juan De Fuca to Victoria, B.C. today. They are anticipated to pull into Ladysmith by the first week of August.

Port Gamble elder Oliver Jones said one of the primary purposes of the event is for tribes to reconnect with their regional brothers and sisters.

“We’re reuniting all of them again because we’ve drifted apart over the years,” he said.

During his grandparents’ era, it was against the rules to interact with other tribes and his parents’ generation didn’t practice the culture and teach the songs.

“Now it’s our generation’s honor to bring our songs, traditions and culture to the young people again,” Jones explained.

Since the reinstatement of canoe culture in 1993, there has been additional interest generated in reviving the tradition.

“Every year, we get more and more and more (interest),” he said. “It’s not only our kids, it’s our whole entire community.”

Port Gamble members Kari and Dennis DeCoteau were members of the drum circle that welcomed the dozen canoes and numerous pullers in Gamble Bay ashore. As per tradition, tribes first had to ask for permission from the S’Klallam people to do so.

The DeCoteaus have two older children who have participated in the journey for the past four years and they are planning to teach their youngest ones the proper protocol for these events.

“I plan to teach them the way to behave at the ceremony,” Kari DeCoteau said.

To her, both Native Americans and the Earth itself are affected by what happens spiritually and physically on these journeys.

“I think it brings healing to the people and the land the canoe comes to,” she said. “I think we’re getting back what we lost with the gathering of the nations. It’s blessed — there is so much prayer that happens.”

While S’Klallam member Randy Wellman is not a puller, he said he would like to get his family involved in the event for the purpose of working toward a healthier lifestyle.

“I think it should be drug-free and alcohol-free, like it is,” Wellman said, noting he’d like to get his 21-year-old and 22-year-old children involved. “It was amazing to see (the canoes) come in like this.”

S’Klallam member Brian Perry said he has enjoyed watching the tribe bring back tradition.

“It’s a good way to start bringing back culture which leads to steering clear of drugs and alcohol, things like that,” he said.

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