Club returns: ‘This is part of our culture’

The new team of the Spirit Hawk paddles off the shores of Suquamish.  - Contributed photo
The new team of the Spirit Hawk paddles off the shores of Suquamish.
— image credit: Contributed photo

SUQUAMISH — If you haven’t heard of the Spirit Hawk Canoe Club, there’s a good reason for that. The club was defunct for a couple of decades. But no longer.

“This is part of our culture and it’s coming back,” said Barb Santos, Suquamish Tribe sports and recreation director.

The Spirit Hawk canoe carried Suquamish competitors in war canoe races throughout the Puget Sound region nearly 20 years ago. Santos was a member of one of the 11-man crews that raced the canoe back then. But over time, membership waned, and for years Spirit Hawk was empty. Some tried to re-establish the club, but with little success.

This year, Santos decided the wait had been long enough and that now was time to start the club up again.

It didn’t take long before the canoe was full.

The Spirit Hawk Canoe Club is for ages 13 and younger. “The oldest that I race is 11, and the youngest is 4,” Santos said.

The racing season began in May. War canoe races are held between different Tribes up and down the Puget Sound region. There are quick dashes on a straight course, while others may have loops. Single paddle canoes and six-person teams, in addition to the Spirit Hawk’s 11-person team, compete in the races.

“Some (kids) are naturals and have improved so much,” Santos said. “These kids, they want to be down there. They don’t want to miss practice.”

Nika Chiquiti, 11, is one such spirited member of the Spirit Hawk’s team.

“I normally sit at the bow and that’s the front of canoe,” Nika said. “You help turn the canoe and set the pace for the people behind you to follow.”

It’s Nika’s first year in the canoe. She almost didn’t take part as basketball was also a tempting draw over the summer. Ultimately she chose the Spirit Hawk.

“I just think that I wanted to try something new,” she said.

Nika won’t miss the game entirely. She will be back on the court come fall. In the mean time she’s enjoying his time on the water.

“It’s really fun and good to meet all the new people that we do. It’s a good cultural activity,” Nika said. “I meet people from a lot of different tribes. The farthest we traveled was on Vancouver Island.”

“It’s a great experience. Anyone can try it,” she said. “I just takes a lot of work to get used to being out on the water almost every day of the week.”

Beyond teamwork, cultural experiences and the joy of the race, Nika said she’s also picking up a few life lessons while in the canoe.

“It’s important to treat your canoe in a very respectful way, the same with your paddle,” she said.

“In our club, we say that you treat your canoe like your grandma — you would never hurt your grandma.”

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