Canoe Journey Journal
Coverage of the annual gathering of canoe cultures
A Suquamish group will share canoe traditions this week, half a world away.
The Tana Stobs canoe family departed for New Zealand on Sunday to take part in Waitangi Day, a traiditional Maori celebration. Events include the Waitangi Waka Pageant, a gathering of ceremonial waka (Maori war canoes).
The Suquamish group will join guests from the Grand Ronde tribes of Oregon and rowing clubs from the Netherlands. Travelling Tana Stobs members include Bennie Armstrong, Nic’cola Armstrong, Dale Ahvakana, Hector Quiroz, Jalen Ives, Faith Williams, Kate Ahvakana and Angelina Ives-Sosa.
This is the third year Suquamish has been involved in a cultural exchange with Maori members. Maori guests have joined the canoe family on the last two Tribal Journeys and Tana Stobs members have visited New Zealand.
This year’s Waitangi Waka Pageant take place in the Bay of Islands at the northern tip of New Zealand.
Participants in the Canoe Journey, the annual cultural event in which more than 100 indigenous canoes travel from their territories to a host nation, with stops at indigenous territories along the way, are scheduled to stop at Port Gamble S’Klallam July 20.
Port Gamble S’Klallam canoe skipper Laura Price and Port Gamble S’Klallam Councilwoman Francine Swift were among 80 Northwest Coast Native leaders who participated in a Canoe Journey planning meeting Saturday at the Samish Indian Nation’s Fidalgo Bay Resort in Anacortes.
Port Gamble S’Klallam could possibly host canoe pullers and support groups from Quinault, Hoh, Quileute, Makah, Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam, and Skokomish. From Port Gamble S’Klallam, pullers will continue to Suquamish, July 21-22; Tulalip, July 23; Coupeville, July 24; and Swinomish, the 2011 host, July 25-31.
All told, Swinomish is expected to host more than 100 canoes from the Northwest Coast for seven days of cultural celebration and sharing. People from other canoe cultures as well — among them Alaska, Hawai’i, Japan and Maori — have participated in recent journeys.
The website for this year’s Canoe Journey — called the Paddle to Swinomish — will be up Wednesday. Visit www.paddletoswinomish.com.
The journey is over – at least for this year. In 2011 a new journey begins as canoes travel through the inviting channels of the Salish Sea to the Swinomish reservation, near La Conner. It will be a much different trip than our rugged passage to the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
I’m back at my desk now, and my paddle blisters have all healed, but this blog will live on in electronic limbo as an imperfect chronicle of the Paddle to Makah.
During three frenetic weeks of Tribal Jouneys coverage I produced about 6,000 words of copy —spread over three newspaper features and the daily blog – and snapped about 1,250 photos (with a few hundred keepers). All this content was scattered across several web pages. This is my attempt to put it in order:
Tribal Journeys photos on Flickr
North Kitsap Herald articles:
A family that pulls together (07/09/10)
Family traditions in the making (07/16/10)
A canoe journey by land (07/23/10)
Tad Sooter photos
Eighty six Tribal Journeys canoes landed in Neah Bay on Monday afternoon, greeted by singers, dancers and a crowd of visitors.
After days of uncertain weather, the strait was peaceful in the morning and Port Gamble S’Klallam canoes launched at Sekiu, near Clallam Bay, for the final leg of the journey. Paddlers pulled easily through rolling swells along a coastline punctuated by pillars of rock.
Canoes gathered at a beach on the east side of Neah Bay at noon to prepare for the ceremonial landing. Port Gamble S’klallam Canoe Family members donned matching red shirts for the landing and skipper Laura Price loaded Noo Kayet with 19 people (the canoe usually holds 11).
We departed again at about 3 p.m. and joined a single file parade across the harbor. Each canoe made a sweeping pass of the beach to salute the crowd, dancers and Makah leaders with raised paddles.
All 86 canoes rafted together about 100 yards offshore to await the landing protocol. The scene in the midst of the flotilla was raucus and colorful. Friends greeted friends in neighboring canoes and stood to take pictures. Pullers tried to execute “the wave” with their paddles as though they were spectators in a stadium.
A solemn hush fell over the harbor as the deep voice of a Makah singer voice out over a loudspeaker. As the song faded, rockets shot into the air, each leaving a puff of white smoke and an echoing report.
The canoes advanced to the beach in groups based on region to ask permission to land. The northern tribes, including Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia were the first to land. We were in the midst of the group of Puget Sound tribes, which made up the bulk of the canoes. Tribes from the Washington coast landed last.
Volunteers waded out into chest deep water to greet our canoe as we pulled close. They didn’t seem to shiver and politely asked each skipper for permission before laying hands on a canoe. “It’s as warm as an ice cube,” one volunteer called cheerfully to our canoe.
We rafted together again just offshore. Makah dignitaries stood above us on a cedar platform, framed against the green hillsides. A speaker from each canoe introduced their family and asked to land. When the final speaker had finished, permission to land was given, and we gratefully slid Noo Kayet ashore after four hours on the breezy harbor. Behind us the coastal canoes pulled forward together with pullers chanting in unison.
For some Tribal Journeys veterans, landing protocol is a formality to be endured – one last step between them and a feast of baked salmon after a long day of pulling. For me, a Journeys first timer, seeing the landing unfold from the water was breathtaking.
There are scenes from that Monday I will not forget. Hearing the Port Gamble S’Klallam Canoe Family announced as we paraded past the beach with paddles raised and knowing how hard the people around me had worked to get there. Being in the midst of 86 jostling canoes carrying more than 1,000 people, who. Hearing those same people fall silent as a Makah song rolled out across the harbor and the pounding of paddle handles against wooden hulls after the canoes were welcomed. These are images I will carry with me.
The canoes are beached, but for some this is only the midway point of the journey. Protocol ceremonies will continue in Neah Bay until Saturday. Each tribe will have a chance to share their songs and dances, and express their gratitude to the Makah for hosting. Port Gamble is scheduled to present on Thursday, but it’s common for the schedule to shift during the week.
I’m home now, resting after a hot shower and a long nap, with the journey still swimming in my mind. Patrick Ives, a Tana Stobs family member, told me he has taken a lesson from every canoe journey, but it takes a few days away to discover what you have learned.
I’m content to let the journey sink in and know that I learned far more than I set out to.
We awoke at 3 a.m. to find the wind blowing even harder than it had the evening before. After a brief meeting the Port Gamble S’Klallam skippers decided not to risk the strait.
About 12 canoes did leave Port Angeles that morning but many were forced back to the beach by the wind and tides. A few pressed ahead to Pillar Point.
A crew of S’Klallam youth paddled the Noo Kayet to a marina to be trailered and canoe was driven west to Sekiu, a town near Clallam Bay. Meanwhile the canoe family camp was moved to Hobuck Beach on Neah Bay, where it will remain for the next week.
July 17, Elwha
My “day of rest” began at 6 a.m. with our support boat captain rousing me for a morning fishing trip. The early start from Port Angeles gave us more time to not catch fish. During six hours of aimless trolling on the strait we watched several fishermen haul in large Chinook salmon. But they were not us.
We gave up at 11 a.m. and went back to our camp on the Elwha reservation.
Protocol ceremonies began at the tribal center at 1 p.m. I watched presentations from Alaska Inuit and native Greenlanders, who are guests on the journey. The Greenlanders performed a lively, jig-like dance inspired by European whalers. The Inuit demonstrated several of their games, including leg wrestling, and challenged audience members on the gym floor.
At camp, kids were playing baseball and hiking to the Elwha River for swims. A native New Zealander, hosted by the Suqauamish Tribe, drilled the Tana Stobs family on a fierce, paddle-brandishing dance on the lawn.
After a dinner of Indian tacos (fry bread, chili and taco fixings), the skippers gathered pullers to discuss plans for the next leg of the journey. Crews will paddle to Pillar Point on Sunday, but because the winds pick up on the strait in the late morning and early afternoon, canoes will need to launch at 5 a.m.
“We’re racing the wind,” skipper Dennis Jones said.
Tomorrow’s wake up call will come at 3 a.m. Protocol will last late into the night, but most of the camp is already in bed.
July 16, Jamestown to Elwha
Pullers assembled at 5:30 a.m. and the sky was encouragingly clear to the northwest.
But at an early morning skippers meeting nearly all the canoe families decided not to make the pull up the coast to Elwha. The forecast was calling for high swells. Fishermen from Jamestown were reporting conditions were getting worse on the strait. With the memory of Thursday morning’s close calls still fresh, the skippers decided to play it safe and trailer the canoes.
The water off the beach was glassy and smooth, but Jamestown is protected by a long sand spit that makes it impossible to guage the conditions in the strait.
“It’s deceiving,” skipper Laura Price said after the decision to trailer was made. “It’s so calm and perfect you want to be out there.”
A few canoes did pull west for Elwha. The Port Gamble S’Klallam Canoe Family assembled its young pullers to paddle Noo Kayet a short distance to a marina for haul out.
The Tana Stobs canoe family held a cleansing ceremony on the beach around their canoe to clear away any negative energy left from Thursday, when the canoe was nearly lost. The women of the family circled the canoe with cedar boughs while the men held its sides in support.
We moved camp to the Lower Elwha Klallam reservation in the late morning. The reservation sits at the mouth of the Elwha River, just west of Port Angeles. We camped in the waterfront yard of a tribal friend, with the Strait of Juan de Fuca spread before us and the north face of the Olympic Mountains towering behind.
Canoes began landing in the early afternoon at Hollywood Beach in downtown Port Angeles. Those that were trailered from Jamestown were launched at a nearby marina and pulled to the beach to request permission to land from the Elwha. The canoes that paddled from Jamestown also trickled in. As it turned out, conditions in the strait had been fair.
Elwha is the largest camp so far. Canoes from north and south Puget Sound and Hood Canal were joined by families from Vancouver Island. Some of the Canadian canoes are unbelievably large. We saw one capable of carrying 20 pullers.
Canoe families will have plenty of time to rest in Elwha. We will stay here all of Saturday and depart Sunday morning for Pillar Point.
The rest day will be a chance to regroup, do laundry and relax. Not having to break down tents in the predawn cold will be the greatest luxury of all.
The sun broke through the fog, the water flattened, and there was a sense of relief in the Jamestown camp this afternoon.
Three canoes capsized rounding Point Wilson in rough water this morning. One was the Tana Stobs canoe, which was lost while being towed empty. It was recovered hours later.
Another was from a Canadian tribe and I haven’t heard the details of the capsizing.
The third was an Elwha canoe, known as the “Pink Paddle Canoe.” The canoe took water over the bow, swamped and eventually turned over. The crew made it safely into a support boat and no one was injured. However, the crew lost gear and paddles and the canoe was badly damaged. The pullers will continue the Journey in a different canoe.
A Port Gamble S’Klallam support boat found one of the Elwha paddles and a carved seat support floating in the strait shortly after the capsizing.
The paddle was returned to the crew and the Elwha performed an emotional cleansing ceremony at the protocol this evening. During the ceremony, a second Elwha paddle was passed up from the crowd. It, too, had been found on the water today.
Each evening the canoe family gathers in a circle to review the day and discuss plans. Tonight’s meeting was a serious one.
“The worst case scenario happened this morning,” Port Gamble S’Klallam skipper Dennis Jones said. “We’re just lucky we didn’t lose anyone from this canoe journey family.”
There’s no promise the conditions tomorrow morning will be any better than today. Only adults will pull tomorrow and pullers are resting for what could be a long day on the water. Support boats won’t be able to draw up to the canoes if conditions are rough, which means fresh crews won’t be able to board.
If conditions aren’t safe, the canoes will be towed to Elwha. All the canoe family can do now is get sleep and hope for good luck in the morning.
Tribal Journeys canoes left Fort Worden State Park at 7 a.m. Thursday, pulling through fog and choppy water. Fifteen minutes later they were all coming back.
Shortly after rounding Point Wilson, word spread over the radio that a canoe had flipped over in high waves. The U.S. Coast Guard was on scene and ordered all Journeys canoes back to the beach.
The canoe turned out to be from Elwha. Its crew was pulled into a support boat and evaluated for hypothermia symptoms but apparently everyone was OK.
The canoes slogged back to the beach and most were loaded onto trailers to be pulled to Jamestown, the next stop on the Journey. A few canoe families opted to tow their canoes behind support boats and rounded the point again.
Among those being towed on the water was a fiberglass canoe from the Suquamish and S’Klallam Tana Stobs family. The canoe began baning against its tow boat in the rough water and was eventually cut loose for fear of damaging both vessels. The canoe was recovered in the early afternoon but it’s still unclear how much damage it sustained.
In the end, the morning was a reminder of how unpredictable the straits can be. Morning predictions had called for light to moderate wind but canoes encountered swells cresting to 10 feet.
“It was the worst I’d seen it,” Port Gamble S’Klallam skipper Dennis Jones said.
The canoe families are now camped in Jamestown and are preparing for a pull to Elwha tomorrow.
Tad Sooter photos
July 14 – Port Gamble to Port Townsend
25 nautical miles
Seven in the morning feels even earlier when you’re standing in knee deep in saltwater. So members of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Canoe Family were relieved when the call came to push off the beach and begin paddling.
Forty Port Gamble S’Klallam pullers assembled at the beach that morning and rotated between three canoes – Noo Kayet, Kloomachin and the Trevathan family canoe.
We were one of the last groups to leave the beach and canoes were already scattered to the horizon as we pulled north up Hood Canal. I started my day in Noo Kayet and the morning chill was soon dispelled by steady paddling under a hot sun.
We had our first man overboard just an hour into the trip. The Kloomachin had pulled alongside one of Port Gamble S’Klallam’s two support vessels to bring on new pullers. As it pushed away from the boat, Kloomachin tilted severely (as it often does) and a young puller fell backwards into the water. The puller swam to the support boat, climbed back into Kloomachin and kept paddling.
At 10:30 a.m. we stopped Oak Bay park, near Indian Island, for an early lunch. From there pulled up the canoes entered the narrow channel between Indian Island and the mainland, which serves as a southern entrance to Port Townsend. The canoes shared the channel with a steady line of powerboats and plowed through wake after wake.
The water was calm in the bay and the canoes made steady time past Fort Flagler and across the Port Townsend ferry lanes. After shooting photos from a support boat for a few hours, I joined the crew of Noo Kayet in the bay.
The sun was unrelenting and young pullers in the canoe were tired and wrestless. We passed downtown Port Townsend and turned northwest toward Fort Worden State Park. Ahead we could see the white strip of beach and barely make out canoes unloading. The closeness of our goal made the last half hour of the trip interminable and pullers were having trouble keeping time.
When we finally arrived at the beach we were greeted by drummers and dancers. The crew carried Noo Kayet up to the line of canoes at the driftwood line with the help of bystanders.
It was only a little past 1 p.m., but already a tent city had blossomed on the hillside above the beach. We found our ground crew pitching tents and cooking an early dinner (or was that a second lunch?) of spaghetti.
There were hundreds of tents packed tight on the lawn and a melee of activity. Shuttle vans were making trips to town, children were playing soccer and a few drum circles were starting up.
A hamburger and hotdog dinner was served and after a canoe family meeting I had enough time to wander the camp and explore bunkers in the park before crawling into my tent for the night.
Drumming and singing circles continued until 11 p.m. then the camp finally began to quiet. Our wakeup call would come at 5 a.m.