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By sea or by land, making the long trek to Bella Bella | Video
By ROB OLLIKAINEN
Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — The distance to Bella Bella, B.C., more than 500 miles away, prompted most indigenous nations on the Olympic Peninsula to modify their plans for this year’s Canoe Journey/Paddle to Bella Bella.
But pullers in the Quileute’s Seawolf canoe set out more than a month ago for the remote community north of Vancouver Island on Campbell Island halfway up the coast of mainland British Columbia, where the Heiltsuk Nation is hosting the week-long celebration for this year’s journey from July 13-19.
The Quileute canoe left its waters at LaPush with 16 pullers and a support boat, the Quileute Tribal Council said in a prepared statement.
“[It’s] important for us to honor our teachings from our elders and our way of life to travel our [ancestral] highways,” puller Ann Penn Charles said. “Very important for our elders, our families and community to see us leave our waters. We are so thankful to our Tribal Council for their support.”
In a prepared statement, the Tribal Council said it was proud of the pullers and support personnel. “It is a long haul and we have them in our prayers for safe travels. They are honoring our elders, culture and ancestral traditions.”
Tribal Council members and some elders plan to attend the protocols at Bella Bella.
The pullers left Sayward, on the northeast coast of Vancouver Island on July 5, towing to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, Penn Charles told the Peninsula Daily News.
Lower Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam and Makah will send representatives to Bella Bella, but because of the distance most will travel in vehicles and on ferries.
“This year, with the distance and the time, it’s just a little prohibitive for a lot of people,” Makah General Manager Meredith Parker said. “It’s basically a month on the water. That’s a lot of time for working people.”
The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe put a canoe in the water for this year’s Canoe Journey but traveled only to Vancouver Island.
The pullers (so-called because of the pulling motion on the canoe paddle) came ashore on Vancouver Island after crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Port Angeles on June 23.
“We don’t have enough strong pullers that can handle the rough waters up there,” Jamestown S’Klallam Chairman Ron Allen said.
Likewise, Lower Elwha Klallam does not have a canoe team in this year’s journey, but two members of the Elwha Klallam and two members of the Jamestown S’Klallam planned to join the Port Gamble S’Klallam canoe on north Vancouver Island, Lower Elwha Klallam Chairwoman Frances Charles said.
Because of the time commitment required for this year’s Journey, Port Gamble S’Klallam joined the Journey after July 4, trailering to north Vancouver Island and departing from there.
About a dozen others from Jamestown S’Klallam will travel to Bella Bella by bus, Jamestown S’Klallam spokeswoman Vickie Carroll said.
Canoe teams from other Western Washington and Canadian indigenous nations are making their way now up the island for a July 13 arrival at Bella Bella.
The Canoe Journey is important cultural event that began with the Paddle to Seattle in 1989, which was conceived by Quinault educator Emmett Oliver and Frank Brown of the Heiltsuk First Nation. That led to the first annual Canoe Journey in 1993, in Brown’s home of Bella Bella.
Pullers leave their own shores in traditional canoes and visit other indigenous nations en route to the final host destination. Each stop on the journey is a cultural celebration, with gifting and the sharing of traditional foods, songs, and dances.
The Canoe Journey culminates with a weeklong cultural celebration at a different location every year. The Makah Nation hosted the Canoe Journey in 2010. The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe was hosted hundreds of pullers and thousands of other Northwest Coast indigenous peoples in 2005.
Although the Makah do not have a canoe on the point-to-point journey, it does plan to haul several canoes to west-central British Columbia to assist with ground landings later this week.
About 30 Makah plan to attend the protocols at Bella Bella, Parker said.
The 17-hour trip from Port Angeles to Bella Bella requires a 310-mile drive up the east coast of Vancouver Island and a 118-mile ferry ride from Port Hardy to the isolated community of about 1,400.
An experienced team of Jamestown S’Klallam pullers completed the trip to Bella Bella 21 years ago, Allen said.
This year’s team, a mix of elders and inexperienced youth, agreed with Jamestown S’Klallam officials that it would be unsafe to complete the journey without a larger safety boat. “The safety boat was a big deal to us and them,” Allen said.
For a map of the Paddle to Bella Bella, go to www.canoejourneymaps.org.