The power of the Canoe Journey | Editorial

Canoes participating in the Canoe Journey — the annual gathering of Northwest Coast indigenous nations — will stop at Port Gamble S’Klallam July 20 and Suquamish July 21-22 en route to the final destination, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community July 25-31.

We encourage the greater community to attend and experience the wonders of the Canoe Journey.

The first Journey was held in 1989 to revive the canoe culture and the traditional form of travel on ancestral marine highways. It has grown into a cultural renaissance with economic, environmental, political and social implications.

Indigenous languages are spoken on the Journey, particularly at the canoe landings when skippers ask hosts for permission for pullers to come ashore, and at evening ceremonies when dances and songs are shared.

Pulling long distance in a canoe requires emotional, physical and spiritual fitness; pledges to be alcohol-free, drug-free and, in many cases, smoke-free, are required. That’s had a tremendous impact on younger pullers.

Josephine Finkbonner, Swinomish, said she has always talked to her children about the importance of being alcohol- and drug-free. She said the Canoe Journey has reinforced the message that “We don’t need to have drugs and alcohol in our lives.”

The Canoe Journey has become a metaphor for life, and young people learn valuable lessons — out on the ancestral waters, as in life, everyone has to do his or her part. You have to take good care of yourself, be patient and lift others up when they are weary.

The art of canoe carving has received a new breath of life; the Journey features beautiful cedar canoes carved by a new generation of Native carvers.

The Canoe Journey is proving to be an effective tool for measuring the health of the Salish Sea. Since 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey has equipped five canoes with probes that collect data about pH levels, salinity, temperature, turbidity and dissolved oxygen in the water. The data is being used to track marine health and hopefully identify pollution sources.

The Canoe Journey brings thousands of visitors to host nations, impacting local economies and giving host nations an opportunity to show some economic muscle.

And the Canoe Journey builds bridges between cultures.  At most communities on the Journey route, Native and non-Native people work together to recruit volunteers and get food and monetary donations to help support the hosting.

The participation of canoe cultures from around the world has grown each year as well. Among the participants in the 2010 Journey: Ainu, Greenlanders, Hawai’ians, Maori, Tlingit and Yup’ik.

In the story on page A1 of today’s edition, Ray Hillaire of the Lummi Nation told of the healing that comes from the “never-ending flow of love” at each stop of the Journey. He told of the losses that the ancestors suffered — children lost to diseases, religious practices banned, villages destroyed. And yet, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren live, the languages are spoken, the songs are sung, and the culture survives.

“The ancestors are thankful for their children who are here today,” he said. “We start getting our strength back when we visit our friends and relatives, when we visit our territories. That hug, that acknowledgment that ‘I see you and I love you,’ is healing.”

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