Opinion

The journey of healing and hope continues | Editor's Notebook

SQUAXIN ISLAND — Ray Krise raised his hands in thanks as the eagle circled overhead, as if greeting the canoes coming around the bend from Budd Inlet into East Bay July 29.

On a path overlooking the bay, Squaxin women and girls dressed in woven cedar and wool clothing raised their hands in welcome as men drummed and sang on the bluff above. Crowds cheered.

The beauty of what was taking place on the water — the arrival of canoes in the 2012 Canoe Journey/Paddle to Squaxin — was sharply contrasted by the reality of what was in the water.

East Bay is sick. It’s the former site of a wood mill and although the beach has been capped with a layer of mud, signs advise visitors to shower after contact with sand or water from the area. The Squaxin people have a treaty right to harvest fish and shellfish here. “It’s damaged so much we can’t grow anything here anymore,” Squaxin elder John Krise said. “Until this pollution dissipates, and that might take a thousand years.”

And so the canoes lined up, each carrying waters from their home territories. The canoe pullers, the crowds, the leaders joined in prayer for the bay’s healing, and then 98 canoe skippers poured their waters into the bay.

Water from the territory of the Tlingit in Alaska. Water from Heiltsuk First Nation territory in Bella Bella, B.C. Water from a pristine lake in the territory of the Samish Nation near Anacortes. Water from the mighty Hoh River, home of the Chaláat, or Hoh Tribe. Water from Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish territory in Kitsap County.

There was a similar Healing of the Waters ceremony 16 years ago. In the years after that ceremony, the hillside from the bluff to the shoreline has become lush with native plants that will, over time, cleanse the soil.

The Squaxin people hope the latest Healing of the Waters ceremony will lead to the healing of East Bay – and to universal awareness that we must be good caretakers of the environment that sustains us. Chief See-ahth, or Seattle, warned us that what we do to the environment we do to ourselves. Appropriate, then, that the theme of this year’s Canoe Journey is “Teachings of Our Ancestors.”

Awareness — that’s what Wade Greene, Makah, said he hoped people would take away from the Journey.

“In 1994, we did a water healing ceremony. Tribal Journeys was barely 20 canoes … Today, we have 98 canoes registered,” he said.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, Olympia Mayor Stephen Buxbaum, and several state legislators would be among those who would bow their heads in prayer and then watch as the waters were poured into the bay. “That will raise that awareness a little bit more,” Greene said.

“If we quit dumping pollutants out there, Mother Nature will take care of it in a few years, but we’ve got to stop dumping.”

Greene said the Canoe Journey teaches participants and observers a lot about environmental stewardship — particularly pullers, who spend as much as a month on the water, traveling by canoe to different territories.

“We’re taught to respect the water as fishermen, as people living next to the water,” Greene said. “[The ancestors] chose to locate their Tribes next to the water for the resources, the salmon and everything the sea has to offer. It’s the root of our people. It’s what’s been providing for us for thousands of years. We need to keep that focus on that water, making sure that highway is still there for us.”

The Healing of the Waters ceremony seemed to underscore the environmental stewardship concerns of the First People of this region.

A day before the landings at East Bay, Squaxin held its First Salmon Ceremony in Arcadia, across from Squaxin Island. The Squaxin treat with reverence the carcass of the first salmon caught each season, returning it to the water with ceremony, so that its spirit will return to the other salmon and tell of the people’s respect, and lead the salmon back to the rivers and streams. If the salmon is not treated with proper reverence, the salmon will not return.

At the Squaxin reservation in Kamilche, recycling stations were set up in camping areas and at the dining area. Guests dined on compostable plates and used compostable utensils. Mass transit was the rule; everyone was shuttled by bus to and from camp sites, the protocol tent, the dining area, and attractions within Squaxin territory. Attractive signs with health and fitness tips lined beautiful forested walking paths leading from the camping areas to the dining and protocol areas.

Krise said the weekend — the First Salmon Ceremony, a visit to Squaxin’s sacred namesake island, and the Healing of the Waters Ceremony — was an emotional one.

“I hope people will understand how we’ve damaged our earth and we need to take better care of our earth — not only this area but the whole world,” he said. “I would like everyone to understand we have to take care of Mother Earth, stop polluting it with chemicals, even with our own personal trash.”

Krise remembered how, as a boy, he went camping with his grandfather, and all his grandfather took was a slab of bacon, a knife, a frying pan, and some flour. Krise asked if that was all they were going to eat. “My grandfather said, ‘When the tide’s out, we’ll get our food from there. When the tide’s out, the table is set.’” They harvested clams, oysters and other shellfish. The grandfather used the oil from the bacon to fry oysters and to make frybread.

The modern Canoe Journey was born in 1989 during Washington’s centennial celebration, when Quinault educator Emmett Oliver and others organized the Paddle to Seattle to celebrate the state’s indigenous peoples and their history on the marine highways of the Salish Sea. One of the people involved, Frank Brown of the Heiltsuk First Nation, invited canoes to visit his home territory of Bella Bella, B.C., in 1993, and the Canoe Journey took root.

In the ensuing years, the Canoe Journey has grown in its sphere of influence: Economic, cultural, political and environmental. Several canoes carry probes that collect information about temperature, salinity, pH levels, dissolved oxygen and turbidity in the water. At the Journey's end, the data is processed and mapped by the U.S. Geological Survey; the information could help identify local impacts of climate change, development, and changes in the levels and types of nutrients and pollutants washing into our sea.

“The reason [USGS] likes that is there’s no motor, it’s just paddling, so you’re not getting any contamination from any motor fuels that might be coming off a motor,” state Rep. John McCoy, a Tulalip Tribes member, said.

“There are a lot of things going on during the paddle. [USGS] has recognized there’s value. So not only are we practicing our culture but we’re taking care of the environment and trying to figure out ways to clean it up.”

Back on the dais, after all of the canoes lined up at a buoy line to ask for permission to enter Squaxin territory, Gov. Gregoire read a resolution acknowledging the indigenous nations represented in the Canoe Journey. She said that the Pacific Ocean, British Columbia, Alaska, Puget Sound, Salish Sea, and the Coast Salish world of the Pacific Northwest “is woven together with the cedar, salmon, whale and eagle, in a journey of healing and hope.”

Then, after all requests for permission to enter Squaxin territory were granted, canoe crews paddled over to Swantown Marina. Pullers got out of their canoes at the docks, and their canoes were trailered out of the water.

The journey of healing and hope continues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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