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Tribal Journeys isn't about the destination

A section of Suquamish Way will be close during the Tribal Journeys, taking place Aug. 3-8.  - Graphic by Dan McDougall
A section of Suquamish Way will be close during the Tribal Journeys, taking place Aug. 3-8.
— image credit: Graphic by Dan McDougall

SUQUAMISH — Three years ago when the Suquamish Tribe hosted canoe pullers rowing their way south toward the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation, Tina Jackson watched as two pallets of bottled water arrived.

The Tribal Journeys coordinator, whose job is to plan for the convergence of thousands for next month’s Tribal Canoe Journeys, knew that much bottled water would last only a day-and-a-half.

The 2009 Tribal Journeys, hosted by the Suquamish Tribe and set to run Aug. 3 through Aug. 8, lasts five days. Eighty to 100 canoes and 12,000 people are expected.

“Even if you have a recycling effort, most end up in the garbage,” Jackson said of the plastic water bottles that are the bane of environmentalists the world over.

For this year’s event, six years in planning, the tribe is planning a “waste-free journey.” It marks the 20th anniversary of the first modern canoe journey, the “Paddle to Seattle.”

Leonard Forsman, tribal chairman, said the low-impact ideas jibe with the Native American values of respecting the earth, but there is another reason.

“It’s also just practical,” he said.

It started as a journey of northwestern coastal tribes to commemorate Washington’s centennial by plying the waters of their ancestors, staying mindful of the traditions and courtesies extended to neighboring tribes, and deepening their knowledge of their own histories.

But one of the canoe skippers, Frank Brown from Bella Bella, British Columbia, challenged the pullers to carve canoes, bring songs and dances and paddle up to Bella Bella four years later. After the 1993 journey, the event became an annual tradition.

The first journey marked the resurgence of an aspect of local native culture that faded away more than 100 years ago. At the time of the first canoe journey the Suquamish didn’t have a canoe, they had to borrow one. Now the tribe owns three canoes, and three more are privately owned by tribal members for a total of six vessels, which require about 60 people per canoe to paddle and support.

“We’ve come a long way,” Jackson said.

In addition to simply preparing for the influx of people, the tribe has geared its construction schedule around the event, with the journey being the deadline for several projects, including refurbishing the Suquamish Dock, and building the tribal administration building and the Marion Forsman Boushie Early Learning Center.

“The Suquamish made a lot of things happen for this to happen,” Jackson said.

Although the event has the markings of a celebration, it isn’t a party. Drugs and alcohol are not allowed.

The public is invited to watch the waves of canoes and pullers each asking for permission to land, called protocol, and the presentations given in the House of Awakened Culture. But tribal leaders are quick to note observers are expected to show respect.

“It’s not a commercial event, it is a spiritual event,” Jackson said.

A section of Suquamish Way east of Division Avenue NE will be closed for the duration of the event. A detour route north on Division Avenue NE and east on NE Geneva Street will be established.

To keep waste at a minimum, organizers bought 10,000 aluminum drinking water bottles to give to guests. Cloth grocery bags will also be handed out, a way to avoid the often single-use plastic bags that, like plastic bottles, require petroleum to produce and often end up clogging landfills. T-shirts and sweatshirts commemorating the journey either use organic or recycled material. Buses will shuttle visitors to the action at no charge. Free parking will be available at three lots off State Route 305, with signs directing the way.

But in a move that perhaps demonstrates the tribe’s commitment to the environment, about 70,000 meals will be served in dining areas with no garbage cans, only recycling and compost bins. Volunteers will be on hand to ensure food scraps and plates, napkins, cups are placed in the right bin. The tribe has arranged for Emu Topsoil to take the compost to its facility in Kingston.

“We have always been taught to consider the environment,” Jackson said, noting the refrain, “Take what you need, use what you take.”

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