Thunder, lightning, rain and hail as never seen before in so short a time, dramatically heralded the native (American/Canadian) Canoe Journey of 2012 as it journeyed to our own Cama Beach State Park.
Then, from out of the mist and rain, emerged the native powered seagoing canoes, journeying here from their last stopping point, Swinomish. Some could be heard, chanting in rhythm to the canoe paddle strokes, before they could be seen.
Uniformed Cama Park Rangers including Jeff Wheeler and Tom Riggs had been preparing for their arrival, and understood the traditional protocols to be followed when each huge canoe approached the beach, and hailed, asking permission to come ashore.
They did not hail land until their paddles rested in the canoe, point of blade aimed at the sky as a sign of peace, and their spokesperson could easily be heard making the request.
Fifteen enormous canoes, some of them dugouts from huge cedar logs, filled with natives using cedar paddles, some of them works of art in their own right, as is traditional, arrived. Some of the canoes had names. The graphics painted on them are not random, but carefully chosen and designed for spiritual purposes.
A composite of their request might sound like this: “We are the (tribal name). We come in peace. It has been a long paddle. We are tired, wet, cold, hungry, thirsty, and in need of a toilet. We ask permission to come ashore.”
They were then greeted in peace and offered hospitality.
The canoes, traditionally built of red cedar, and 20 to 50 feet long or more, are heavy. The paddlers were assisted in lifting their crafts out of the water, and carrying them ashore, without scraping on anything, by uniformed Cama Beach Park Rangers (seen from bow to stern), Tom Riggs, Jeff Wheeler, and Tina Dinzl-Peterson.
The canoes were pulled up on the grass, past where they might float out to sea on the high tide, and lined up, parallel to one another, as they have been for thousands of years in the Pacific Northwest.
New and different were canoes of fiberglass, with the same seagoing length and design, with wooden paddler rests, not entirely traditional. Another difference in the canoe from Swinomish, was the dagger board “amidships”.
This canoe had Swinomish paddling, as well as Kikialos descendents now living at Swinomish, but returning on this journey to their ancestral homeland, Camano Island. Kevin Paul, Kikialos descendant of Grandfather George Alexander, and Swinomish Tribal Senator stood tall and proud on ancestral land. This writer, who lives just north of the ancient Indian Beach winter village, had tears well up seeing Kevin. I’d thought the Kikialos had faded into the shroud of history…but here was a dignified descendent. The Kikialos were known as a peaceful tribe. Their lookouts would watch for seagoing canoes from the north, coming to raid their longhouses and lodges and take their possessions.
When the alarm came, the Kikialos would quickly pack up what was important to them in cedar boxes or baskets, and disappear into the forest. The Haida and Tlingit canoes couldn’t enslave or hurt them if they couldn’t be found. After a few days, when the raiders had eaten up all the food, and moved on, the peaceful Kikialos would return to their homes.
Traditionally painted canoe and paddle demonstrated good naturedly by First Nation paddler:
There’s more to this story than the canoes and graphics. Enough to make, as Chief Dan George put it: “My heart soars like an eagle.”
A press release from Squaxin spokeswoman Charlene Krise said:
“The power of the canoe journey reaches into the very depths of the spirit, mind and body of our tribal people. The canoe journey is so powerful in helping to retrieve, revive and empower tribal people. We gain appositive outlook for the present and future generations”. The November 2011 release goes on to say:
“For centuries, Pacific Northwest tribal people navigated the waterways in intricately carved dugout canoes. The Salish Sea, the body of water that encompasses Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of George in Canada, was the central force that connected canoe cultures for intertribal communication and trade. But early federal government mandates outlawed many trial traditions resulting in the almost lost art of canoe building, and ceremonial practices. In 1989, the Canoe Journey event, originally called the “Paddle to Seattle”, was organized as a revival of the canoe culture traditions and the Native American contribution to the Washington State Centennial. Today, tribes from Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and the Seminole Tribe in Florida participate.
The Bella Bella, from British Columbia, will travel more than 1,000 miles over 23 days. As the canoes arrive at the host site on July 29th, each canoe family asks for permission to come ashore, according to their own culture and protocol. Paddles are raised, signifying “We come in peace.” The Squaxin Island Tribe will then host a week of traditional potlatch ceremonies and festivities with daily performances by dancers, singers and storytellers. Potlatch ceremonies and performances will take place on the Squaxin Island Reservation. The public is welcome but is asked to respect ceremonies, while in the protocol tent..
Click on this hyperlink to go directly to the Squaxin tribal website about the Journey: http://paddletosquaxin2012.org/
See part two of Canoe Journey, the rest of the story, coming soon.
Story and photos Copyright 2012 by Barbara Allen, used by permission.