Canoe Journey: 21st annual event visits Kitsap July 20-22 | Kitsap Week

A Queets canoe arrives at Point Julia during the 2011 Canoe Journey. - Richard Walker / 2011
A Queets canoe arrives at Point Julia during the 2011 Canoe Journey.
— image credit: Richard Walker / 2011

The territory of the Squaxin Island Tribe is the final destination of this year’s Canoe Journey, but each stop along the way is as important as the next.

At a skippers meeting last year, Raymond Patrick Hillaire of the Lummi Indian Nation told of the healing that comes from the “never-ending flow of love” at each stop of the Canoe Journey. He told of the losses that the ancestors suffered — children lost to diseases, religious practices banned, villages destroyed. And yet, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren live, the languages are spoken, the songs are sung, and the culture survives.

“The ancestors are thankful for their children who are here today,” he said. “We start getting our strength back when we visit our friends and relatives, when we visit our territories. That hug, that acknowledgment that ‘I see you and I love you,’ is healing.”

Canoes from Northwest indigenous nations in British Columbia and Washington arrive at Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish beginning July 20, en route to Olympia where the Squaxin Island Tribe landing will take place.

The canoe landings and many of the cultural events that follow are open to the public.

Since the Paddle to Seattle in 1989, the Canoe Journey’s sphere of influence has grown to include the environment, economy and politics.

But the biggest impact has been in bolstering a culture that was threatened by assimilation policies, residential schools and bans on certain cultural practices in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Canoe Journey is indeed like a family gathering, with the number of canoe families growing at each stop until the final destination.

On July 20, Port Gamble S’Klallam will host canoes and support crews from about 25 indigenous nations from western Vancouver Island, the Pacific Coast of Washington and the Olympic Peninsula. The landings will be followed by dinner and evening protocols — cultural sharing and gifting — in the S’Klallam House of Knowledge.

Port Gamble S’Klallam is well-known among canoe families for its clam bakes. Host communities feed hungry pullers (the preferred term for paddlers) and their ground crews, and provide camping space, laundry and showers.

“It’s a huge responsibility and honor at the same time,” S’Klallan canoe skipper Laura Price said in an earlier interview. “We make sure everyone leaves with a full tummy and a happy heart.”

Canoes will depart Point Julia the morning of July 21, round Foulweather Bluff and travel south to Suquamish. There, the number of canoes and participants swells as canoes arrive from eastern Vancouver Island, mainland Washington, and lower mainland and central B.C.

Suquamish expects to host 4,000 to 4,500 people July 21 and 3,000 people July 22, according to Tina Jackson, Suquamish’s cultural activities coordinator.

Suquamish hosted 1,200 people last year. The reason for the increase in numbers: Suquamish is the fourth to the last stop.

To accommodate vehicles, Walmart is offering a free shuttle between its parking lot and Suquamish. The shuttle will provide eight roundtrips a day. In addition, the Tribal Center parking lot may have spaces available, first come first served.

The Suquamish Tribe and the Suquamish Olalla Neighbors will co-host a community potluck July 22.

“The Suquamish Olalla Neighbors have been great helping with that,” Jackson said. “There are a number of places where people have been helping throughout the Canoe Journey and it’s been nice. I was the Tribe’s planner during most of the 1990s, when we built the casino and the housing site, and I spent years at meetings where people were yelling at us. Through the Canoe Journey, people get more information (about the Tribe) and we’ve been able to donate more to the community, so people see us in a lot better light.”

The Canoe Journey and the intercultural interaction it fosters has helped build bridges between the Native and non-Native communities as well.

Exposure to cultural activities associated with the Journey has helped break down barriers and increase cultural understanding. Non-Native people now help raise money to support Canoe Journey hosting and volunteer at the events.

“It’s helped us see that although they are engaged in an ancient cultural tradition, they are still like you and me,” Suquamish Olalla Neighbors co-chairwoman Karen Platt said last year. “They work in our communities and have children in our schools.”

Platt said Suquamish has been in the lead among Journey hosts in involving the non-Native community. Suquamish provided cultural training for volunteers in 2009 when it was the final destination of the Journey and hosted some 12,000 guests.

“What I’ve learned is the way they do things and direct things,” she said. “People just step up and take an area – kind of, ‘This is something I’m capable of doing and I have the resources to do it.’ ”

The Canoe Journey has also built bridges between Native cultures as well.

“The Canoe Journey’s been great for unity among the young people,” Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman said. “It’s brought an opportunity for young people to interact culturally in a healthy, safe environment.”

— To volunteer at Port Gamble S’Klallam, call Carol Pagaduan, (360) 204-6263. To volunteer at Suquamish, contact Karen Platt at (206) 310-6096,

Times are approximate

July 20
3 p.m.: Canoes begin arriving at Port Gamble S’Klallam’s Point Julia; traditional clambake on the beach.

5 p.m.: Dinner at the Tribal Campus in Little Boston.

Evening: Presentations and protocol, Port Gamble S’Klallam longhouse. Parking is available at the Tribal Campus and at Ravenwood, near the Gliding Eagle Marketplace. Shuttles will be provided.

July 21
Morning: Canoes depart for Suquamish; time is tide-dependent.

1-2 p.m.: Canoes land at Jefferson Head for a rest before formal landing at Suquamish.

2 p.m.: Canoes begin arriving at Suquamish Boat Ramp. Welcoming by Suquamish Tribal leaders, elders, and royalty.

5:45 p.m.: Blessing of meal.

6 p.m.: Salmon dinner and clam bake hosted by Suquamish Tribe.

6:15 p.m.: Welcome by Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman.

7 p.m.: Protocol begins.

July 22
7 a.m.: Breakfast by Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort.

2:45 p.m.: Formal welcome by Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman.

3 p.m.: Protocol begins.

6 p.m.: Blessing of meal.

6:15 p.m.: Potluck dinner provided by Suquamish Olalla Neighbors and Suquamish Tribe.

July 23
7 a.m.: Breakfast by Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort.

Canoes leave for Muckleshoot.


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