In one of the biggest turnouts in 23 years, more than 75 traditional cedar canoes took part in the annual Coast Salish Canoe Journey, making a stop at Puyallup territory near Dash Point on July 25. Tribes from as far away as Hawaii and New Zealand have participated in this celebration of tradition and culture, reconnecting with friends and family along the way as they journey toward their final destination. This year’s journey concludes with a nearly weeklong celebration at Squaxin Island Tribe.
Designated Puyallup tribal members greeted each canoe by granting permission to come ashore, following the traditional protocol of their ancestors. Canoes paddled on to Ole and Charlie’s Marina then paddlers spent the night sharing stories, food, dance and song at the Emerald Queen riverboat.
Canoes arrived from Alki Beach in the afternoon, with many paddling for as long as five hours. The following morning, rain or shine, Tribal canoe families took to the water again on their journey to Squaxin Island for their final stop.
“Greeting the first canoe was very emotional,” said Puyallup Tribe’s Cultural Coordinator Connie McCloud. “Many of these people have traveled so far to be here. There’s an excitement in the air that is hard to describe unless you experience it yourself.”
The annual drug- and alcohol-free event has become an important way for tribal elders to instill strong values in their youth. Members of the Puyallup canoe family have been meeting regularly throughout the year in an effort to reconnect with their culture through the Canoe Journey.
“This is an exciting time, but it also requires hard work,” McCloud added. “We teach on the canoe that if you hit rough waters, you need to keep paddling, and that is an important life lesson for our youth.”
Volunteers met fatigued paddlers with bottles of water, snacks and words of encouragement to help them refuel for the remainder of the journey. Members of the greater community were able to witness the scores of traditional canoes entering the waters of Puget Sound, and were welcome to attend Canoe Journey events along the way.
Support crews of at least 50 people follow each canoe, rotating paddlers and setting up camp at each stop. Alana Pashia, a member of the Puyallup canoe family’s ground crew, spent a week and a half helping paddlers reach their destinations safely. “I’m completely in awe,” she said of her first experience as a support crewmember. “I’m tired, but absolutely love it.”
She calls the canoe landing events her favorite aspect of the Canoe Journey, along with the canoe launch each morning. “I already can’t wait for next year,” she added.
State Representative Hans Zeiger witnessed the Puyallup canoe landing, and was honored with a traditional song by children from Grandview Early Learning center. “I’ve heard so much about what an important event this is for Tribes in the area,” he said. “I feel strongly about the importance of the Tribal heritage of our region, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
The original Canoe Journey, called the Paddle to Seattle, took place in 1989 as part of the bicentennial celebrations for Washington State. Since then, Tribes from up and down the Northwest coast and beyond have participated in this annual event.