The Fast and Furious War Canoes

By Kalvin Valdillez

The Tulalip Tribes hosted the Annual War Canoe Races during the weekend of May 6, 2017. The two-day event attracts several Native communities including many Coast Salish tribal members as well as numerous First Nation band members from Canada. Racers, some as young as seven years-old, paddle rapidly through the waters of Tulalip Bay, in friendly competition, for a shot at the greatly desired first place title. Throughout the weekend races were held for singles and doubles as well as six and eleven-man teams.

Traditionally, canoes were made as a form of transportation for Northwest Natives as they navigated the waters to other tribes for various ceremonies. Canoes were also used during fishing and whaling trips as well as for raids. Due to the need for speed, traditional canoes were modified into faster models as tribes engaged in wars amongst each other by raiding villages.

Today, tribal nations gather in Tulalip once a year to cheer on their loved ones as they take to the waters, with their fellow racers, in war canoes. The races were on an extended hiatus and were recently revived during the summer of 2015. Tulalip tribal member and War Canoe Races Coordinator Natasha Fryberg spoke on the history, revival and importance of the races.

“Canoe races have been happening for many years. As far as Tulalip’s canoe race, we are not sure exactly when the last year Tulalip hosted the races [prior to the hiatus]. I was speaking with Art Humphreys during the canoe races and he was sharing with me that he remembers being here in the early 80’s, racing. Bringing the races back into our community was something that our uncle Herman Williams Sr. really pushed for. He pushed for our community to bring these canoes back to our people, ensuring that part of our history and identity is not forgotten. Thankfully canoe races are something that I feel very passionate about. I’m blessed by having the chance to coordinate the races and work with all the surrounding communities and travelers that come into our community and waters.

For many of us, we look at being in these canoes and learning about this way of life as a spiritual healing and blessing. We teach our youth at a young age that our canoes are live spirits and how to love and care for our canoes. That those trees that our canoes came from, gave themselves up for us to be able to go out on the water. Most importantly we use canoe racing as a way to promote a healthy lifestyle. To be able to give the children a place to go each day, to steer them away from what bad they may or may not get into,” stated Natasha. “Overall it is a humbling experience and I absolutely love it. I am only young and still learning myself, but I am more than willing to share what I have learned thus far.”

For those interested in racing and for additional information about the Annual War Canoe Races, please contact Natasha Fryberg at (425) 422-9276.

War Canoe Races expand to 3-day event

2015 War Canoe Races Photo/Niki Cleary, Tulalip News

2015 War Canoe Races
Photo/Niki Cleary, Tulalip News

 

**Revised: The Annual Tulalip War Canoes Races have been rescheduled to July 29-31

 

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

Last August, the Tulalip Tribes revived war canoe races and in doing so brought back what used to be an annual event on our waters before a very sudden and lengthy hibernation period. Through the efforts and perseverance of several tribal members dedicated to reviving the practice of hosting and competing in war canoe races, the cultural event returned to our reservation, along with the prestige that comes from being a tribe included in the war canoe races circuit.

Last year, hundreds of racers of all ages, from single rowing to 11-man teams, rowed intently across Tulalip Bay in physically demanding and spiritually uplifting competition. The Tulalip war canoe races brought nearly 200 participants from Coast Salish tribal communities both near and far. There were several canoe clubs who journeyed from Canada to attend.

In preparation for this year’s Tulalip war canoe races and all the competitors and spectators sure to be involved, the originally scheduled 2-day event has been expanded to a 3-day event to take place Friday July 15 through Sunday July 17.

The history of war canoe races stems from canoes being a traditional means of transportation for coastal and island tribes along the Northwest’s continental fringe. Not only did people use canoes for fishing and trading trips, but they also used them for raiding. Needing to be as quick as possible during these raids, tribes became experts at making canoes that could maneuver through the waters with ease. Both the individual manned canoe and team manned canoes required highly disciplined paddlers or pullers. These pullers often trained for months on end in order to become one when in the canoe. In some cases, the pullers would make use of a rhythmic chant to help ensure proper technique as they chanted their way across the shimmering, sunlit water.

 

Above: Little canoe race, Tulalip Indian boys, ca. 1912. Photographer: Ferdinand Brady

Above: Little canoe race, Tulalip Indian boys, ca. 1912. Photographer: Ferdinand Brady

 

In our modern era, tribes no longer raid each other, but find our connectedness to nature and the life giving water remains inherent to what it means to be Coast Salish. So the practice and traditions of war canoe racing evolved into what it is today, becoming an inter-tribal event that spiritually uplifts individuals and community while honoring traditions of our ancestors.

Join in on the fun and excitement this weekend, as the Tulalip war canoe races kick-off Friday July 15. There will be plenty of food and merchandise vendors to shop from between races.

 

The war canoe race schedule is as follows:

Friday (races to be done separately, unless circumstances change day of race)

Singles

  • 7 and under girls
  • 7 and under boys
  • 10 and under girls
  • 10 and under boys
  • 13 and under girls
  • 13 and under boys
  • 16 and under girls
  • 16 and under boys
  • 19 and under boys
  • 19 and under girls

Doubles

  • 7 and under (open)
  • 10 and under (open)
  • 13 and under (open)
  • 16 and under (open)
  • Men
  • Women
  • Mixed

6 man

  • 10 and under
  • 19 and under

11 man

  • 10 and under

 

Saturday

11 man

  • 13 and under
  • 16 and under
  • Women
  • Men
  • Mixed (6 women min)

6 man

  • 13 and under
  • 16 and under
  • Women (lady skip)
  • Men

Doubles

  • 13 and under
  • 16 and under
  • Women
  • Men
  • Mixed
  • 45 and over

Singles

  • 13 and under
  • 16 and under
  • Women
  • Men
  • 45 and over women
  • 45 and over men

 

Sunday

11 man

  • 13 and under
  • 16 and under
  • Men
  • Women

6 man

  • 13 and under
  • 16 and under
  • Men
  • Women

Doubles

  • Men
  • Women
  • Mixed

Singles

  • 13 and under tip over race
  • 16 and under tip over race
  • Women