Canoe Journey returns for Paddle to Nisqually

07.14.2016 Brent Merrill Culture, Events, Tribal Employees

The Tribe’s Canoe Family will travel to Skokomish, Wash., to participate in this year’s “Paddle to Nisqually” event in Puget Sound that begins Saturday, July 30, and runs through Saturday, Aug. 6.

The journey, which was not held in 2015, is a chance for the Canoe Family to travel the waterways of many northwest Tribes. The Canoe Family will be participating in protocols with Tribes at each stopover along the way as well as sharing languages, songs, dances and traditional foods.

The canoe gatherings are acknowledged throughout the nation as one of the largest gatherings of indigenous people in the world. Host Tribes along the route plan for years to feed and house as many as 10,000 people on their beaches throughout the event’s duration.

The Canoe Journey movement was established again as part of the Paddle to Seattle event that occurred in 1989. Beginning in 1993, indigenous peoples from Canada, Alaska and Washington state began to gather for a canoe event. They traveled to Bella Bella, British Columbia. Since that journey, the movement has grown to include more than 100 canoes from American Indian Tribes, First Nations people, Alaskan Natives, Inuits, Maoris and Native Hawaiians.

A contingent of as many as 60 members of the Canoe Family will leave Grand Ronde on Friday, July 22, for Skokomish. The next day, the group will begin the journey when they leave Skokomish and enter their canoe into Puget Sound. From Skokomish, the Canoe Family will travel to Dosewallips State Park, arriving on Saturday, July 23.

The next stop will be Port Gamble S’Klallam. The Canoe Family will depart from Port Gamble S’Klallam on July 24 and travel almost to Seattle where they will be guests of the Suquamish Nation. On July 27, they will paddle from Suquamish to Manchester State Park and on July 28 they will make their way to Puyallup Owen Beach.

The Canoe Family will arrive in Nisqually at the final destination at Swantown Marina at the Port of Olympia Landing on Saturday, July 30.

This is the Canoe Family’s 11th journey since the program began.

Tribal General Manager Dave Fullerton said the Grand Ronde contingent will participate in the final Medicine Creek Treaty Ceremony on Sunday, July 31.

“We chose to travel the route starting at Skokomish,” said Fullerton. “We will meet up with everyone (representatives of other northwest Tribal canoe families) in Suquamish and go straight to the Puyallup stop. We will end up in Olympia for the landing.”

Tribal Council Chairman Reyn Leno said Native people coming together is a good thing.

“It’s a huge gathering,” said Leno. “Anytime our people are gathering it’s carrying on our culture. I think it’s amazing for our kids to go and do some of these things. We have connections now all over the world because of this whole thing. To be a part of that is huge.”

Three Maori guests from New Zealand will be making the Canoe Journey this year as part of an ongoing cultural exchange program with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

Members of the Maori have been participating in the Canoe Journey since 2008. This year, Waikarere Gregory, Ihaia Puketapu and his wife, Marissa, have been selected by the Toi Maori Aotearoa to represent the organization.

Toi Maori Aotearoa is an organization committed to supporting and developing contemporary Maori art. The organization was established in 1996 to promote, advocate and develop the best of Maori art and culture.

Waikarere and the Puketapus are accomplished Maori artists who are considered people of culture in their communities.

Tribal Council member Jon A. George said he believes canoe journeys are important to the Tribal community in Grand Ronde.

“Canoe Journey for me is one of the three top cultural events that occur annually for Grand Ronde,” said George via e-mail. “It is designed as a clean and sober event, and I am proud to be part of that family and to see that the young ones and others who began 10 years ago are still living that lifestyle.

“It is teaching our young ones that culture and family are important and it is who we are as a people. It brings out leadership and togetherness in each who participate and memories for a lifetime.”

Cultural Outreach Coordinator Bobby Mercier said he has seen many changes in the Canoe Family since it began. He said 18 people participated in the first journey and that the group has grown to more than 100 people in camp on some journeys.

Mercier said canoe families from the Coos and Coquille Tribes will join the Grand Ronde Canoe Family on the Paddle to Nisqually as will a group from Native American Youth and Family Services in Portland.

“For us, we see the culture that binds us together of who we are, who they are and how that brings us together,” Mercier said of the relationships that have been built with other Tribes. “I think that has made a lot of us stronger, helping each other along. The canoes have brought those kinds of cultural communities together.”

Fullerton said young people in the Grand Ronde community now look to join the Canoe Family.

“It provides people with cultural identity,” said Fullerton. “It provides people with a connection to the Tribe. You see all generations participating. People have a connection to the water.”

Mercier said the Canoe Family is setting an example.

“I think it is showing this community and our kids this is who you come from,” said Mercier. “Our people had canoes whether it was the West Coast ones we have or the shovel noses or the river canoes, if you come from any of these people, if your village was close to the river you had canoes.

“Being in those canoes, you are traveling the same highways that your ancestors did and you are representing your families and your communities.”

Mercier said the Canoe Journey allows people to find their identity.

“There is a better way to live than with all the drugs and alcohol,” said Mercier. “This is showing people that you can do so many other things with your people and for your people that are living a good lifestyle and getting back to some of the teachings that our ancestors had.”