Twenty-three years ago, canoes from up and down the Pacific Northwest coast converged in the Paddle to Seattle, in honor of Washington state’s bicentennial celebration. Since then, annual intertribal canoe journeys have taken on their own life, becoming a highly anticipated celebration of Pacific Northwest native culture and tradition. With more than 100 canoes descending upon Dash Point State Park, where the Puyallup Tribe is expected to host some 8,000 people, this year’s event is expected to be bigger than ever before.
The Puyallup Tribe’s canoe family has met regularly throughout the year in anticipation of the journey. The drug-and-alcohol-free event has become an important way for youth to reconnect with their culture while spending time in a positive environment. Each youth participates in canoe family activities with a parent or adult to learn traditional songs, native languages and more. In order to take part in the canoe journey itself, participants must attend meetings on a regular basis.
“The canoe journey has become a significant cultural and spiritual event,” said Connie McCloud, cultural coordinator for the Puyallup Tribe. “A child may run into trouble in their lives, but if they have a strong foundation that we try to provide through the canoe family, they will have the strength to come back and make healthy decisions in their lives.”
This year’s canoe landing location for the Puyallup Tribe was moved to Dash Point to accommodate thousands of people expected to attend the event and take part in the festivities. Canoe families will enjoy a specially prepared dinner to fuel up for another long day of paddling. Participants will camp overnight before taking to the water once again on their journey to Squaxin Island Tribe.
As each canoe arrives at the Puyallup landing point, they will follow the traditional protocol of their Native American ancestors by asking permission to come ashore.
Each canoe family paddles for between four to eight hours per day depending on the weather, with an average of 50 people following along in support boats. Tribes from Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Canada, Florida, New Zealand and Japan are expected to participate in the journey to Squaxin Island reservation. The Bella Bella tribe from British Columbia will travel more than 1,000 miles in 23 days before landing at the host site on July 29.
McCloud hopes canoe families from around the region enjoy good food and hospitality during their stay in Puyallup. “The Puyallup people are known to be very hospitable, and that is the message we hope to convey this year,” she said. “We want people to see that we continue to practice our culture and live by the values our people have always lived by.”
In previous years, only a portion of all the canoe families participating in the journey were able to stop on the Puyallup reservation, but the route this year requires that all canoes converge in Puget Sound in order to reach their final destination.
The public is welcome and encouraged to attend, enjoy traditional songs, cultural activities and dinner. McCloud hopes members of the public attend the event to get to know the tribal community. “Many people only see two casinos, and that’s our visibility,” she said. “But, we’re very much a part of the community.”
Puyallup tribal member Clinton McCloud has been working hard coordinating and planning the logistics of the event, and has participated in the canoe journeys since 2001, calling it a spiritual, healing experience. “When you get out there on the water and you’re in nature, there is a different mindset,” he said. “It’s a way to get in touch with your culture and meet other natives while building stronger ties with other tribes.”