Tribal Canoe Journeys on hiatus in 2015 after no host comes forward

By Arwyn Rice, Peninsula Daily News

Canoes line Hollywood Beach in Port Angeles as participants in the Paddle to Quinault 2013 arrive at the traditional territory of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe. — Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Canoes line Hollywood Beach in Port Angeles as participants in the Paddle to Quinault 2013 arrive at the traditional territory of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe. — Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — The Tribal Canoe Journeys, traditionally an annual event, is expected to take a one-year hiatus in 2015 for the first time since 1993.

“No one has stepped up to the plate to host [the Canoe Journey] in 2015,” said Frances Charles, tribal chairwoman of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe.

The first canoe journey was the 1989 “Paddle to Seattle,” which was conceived by Quinault tribal member Emmet Oliver and Frank Brown of Bella Bella.

That led to the first Canoe Journey in 1993 in Bella Bella.

For the journeys, tribes throughout the Pacific Northwest, as well as some from Canada and Alaska, gather teams of pullers.

They leave their own shores in canoes and visit other tribal lands along the way. Before they land, they ask the host tribe or first nation for permission to come ashore.

Landings are followed by meals, storytelling and the exchange of traditional songs, dances and gifts.

The journey culminates at a different location each year in a weeklong potlatch and celebration of tribal cultures.

The journeys will resume in July 2016 for the “Paddle to Nisqually.”

Typically, a tribe will announce itself as host two to three years ahead of time, so members of the canoe families familiar with the system have known for a year that it was unlikely there would be a 2015 event, said Vickie Carroll, Canoe Journeys coordinator for the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe in Blyn.

This past July, at the 2014 Paddle to Bella Bella’s final week, it was clear there wouldn’t be one in 2015, Carroll said.

“It’s a huge, huge undertaking,” she said.

Carroll said host tribes feed and provide places for as many as 10,000 people for the final week of welcoming ceremonies, potlatches and games, which can take years for tribes to save for and plan.

“It might have to do with the cost of hosting the journey,” she said.

Most North Olympic Peninsula tribes are planning alternative cultural activities next summer.

The Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, which hosted a Canoe Journey in 2005, is planning to host a celebration of the removal of the dams on the Elwha River.

It will be a gathering similar to those of the Canoe Journeys, but for a single weekend, likely July 17-19, Charles said.

Planning for the celebration is in its early stages, and the details are still being worked out, she said.

Carroll said that when no one took up the mantle for the 2015 journey, she began working on organizing a smaller canoe trip among the Klallam sister tribes — the Lower Elwha Klallam, the Jamestown S’Klallam and the Port Gamble S’Klallam.

The trip will be organized to avoid conflicting with the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe’s Elwha River celebration, she said.

Dates for the smaller journey have not yet been established.

Many tribes organize their summer activities around the Canoe Journeys.

The Quinault Nation, located in west Jefferson and Grays Harbor counties, has hosted in the past a “warrior youth camp” that teaches traditional culture and values to young tribal members, culminating with the Canoe Journeys trip.

“I understand that our local canoe families are focusing on a canoe camping trip in the summer of 2015 with the youth, which will prepare them very well for the trip to Nisqually,” said Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Nation, which hosted the journey in 2013.

“While we may miss not having a Canoe Journey in 2015, the spirit of the journey is very much alive,” Sharp said.

“Setting the next one for 2016 was a wise move that will help make that event even greater.”

Sharp said the Canoe Journeys have become a touchstone gathering for the tribes of the Pacific Northwest — one of the largest traditional gatherings of indigenous people anywhere in the world.

“This outstanding cultural celebration has changed thousands of lives, infused amazing vitality into Native culture that will last generations,” Sharp said.

“It has educated hundreds of thousands of people about our customs, our legacies and our priorities in life.

“The Canoe Journeys have opened the ocean and other ancestral highways to new generations while bringing back a culture that was nearly lost,” she said.

The Quileute, who hosted a two-day celebration at LaPush in 2013 during the Journey to Quinault, will participate in the Elwha ceremony, the tribal council said.

“We recognize the importance for our neighbors to have their river flow free of obstruction so their watershed can return to a more natural state,” the council said in a written statement.

“The Elwha tribe has always been a generous host for all canoes families going through their territories, and we look forward to celebrating this historic event with them.”

The Quileute plan to travel to the potlatch in traditional canoes.

At the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, the Makah Canoe Families are planning a cultural camp for the pullers who would have otherwise been part of the Canoe Journeys, with some activities planned for the larger Makah community, said Polly DeBari, a co-captain of the Makah Canoe Families.

The Makah hosted the Tribal Canoe Journey in 2010.

The break in Canoe Journeys is both a disappointment and a relief, DeBari said.

While those traveling do not need to plan as much as the hosts, there is a lot of organizing for the pullers, their support teams on land, their support boat and training.

“Taking on a journey for a day or a couple of days or three weeks, it’s a lot of work,” she said.

Enriching journey returns with Paddle to Quinault

Angelo Bruscas/North Coast News Members of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe land their canoe at Damon Point in Ocean Shores July 29.
Angelo Bruscas/North Coast News Members of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe land their canoe at Damon Point in Ocean Shores July 29.

By Angelo Bruscas, North Coast News

The first landing locally for the Paddle to Quinault 2013 was blessed with calm seas and a light overcast at low tide on Damon Point when five tribal canoes from Southwest Washington and Oregon pulled in for the last leg of their journey to the shores of the Quinault Indian Nation.

Even though Monday’s landing was in Ocean Shores, it technically is on Quinault land, too, with the Ocean Shores RV Park and Marina owned by the host tribe. The site will harbor campers and canoe teams connected to the intertribal journey of nearly 100 canoes that will end this weekend at Point Grenville, south of Taholah. The city of Ocean Shores issued a permit to the RV Park to allow spill-over camping on the other side of Marine View Drive, and many of the teams arrived with large groups of followers and supporters on Monday afternoon.

They were greeted by a Quinault contingent that included Tribal Council members, drummers, pageant royalty and dancers in traditional clothing, along with customary greetings and requests from the canoe teams for permission to come ashore.

“Thank you for sharing what you have, what you have been given by the Great Spirit,” Quinault Tribal Council member Richard Underwood called out in greeting the arriving teams. “We look forward to hearing your songs and your dances and joining in the festivities. On behalf of our royalty here, our Miss Quinault and Miss Teen Quinault, we welcome you to come ashore and share with us your history. We are thankful you made it here safe. Welcome. Come ashore!”

Jeremiah Wallace, 32, skipper of the Cowlitz Tribe canoe, was thankful the team would have a chance to rest up before making the final 30-mile pull to the beach at Point Grenville. The Cowlitz team and canoes from Grand Ronde and Warm Springs had traveled down the Columbia River and up the coast, meeting the Chinook Tribe’s canoes at the mouth of the Columbia, and actually arriving a day earlier than expected.

“We’re pretty happy to be here,” said a hoarse and exhausted Wallace, who now lives in Bellingham. The Cowlitz started at the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia and then met the Warm Springs, Grand Ronde and Chinook tribal canoes on the journey down the river into the open ocean, a place where Wallace had never been in the canoe. They also stopped at the Shoalwater Bay Tribe before crossing Grays Harbor on Monday.

The canoes averaged about 22-24 miles a day, and Wallace was sore on his side and his chest from the steering demands on his body. The biggest difficulty other than the normal hardship of pulling a paddle for a couple hundred miles was the fog, and Wallace said the canoes had to follow the lights of a Chinook crab boat and Grand Ronde Zodiac on Monday through the fog.

“This is my first time in the ocean. It was pretty calm out there, but it’s hard when you don’t have any relief pullers. You just have to keep pulling the whole time,” Wallace said.


The Paddle to Quinault is not just a canoe journey. It is a cultural celebration with song and dance, a Potlach, a demonstration of the wealth and riches of the community.

“People come from far and near to partake in these festivities that we will be having,” Underwood said as he described the event July 18 for over 400 people gathered at the Ocean Shores Convention Center.

As many as 15,000 people are expected to arrive this weekend as tribes throughout the Northwest journey by canoes up and down the coast, landing at Point Grenville, south of Taholah. There, they will be greeted with a feast and several days of hospitality by the Quinault Nation, which has been spending the past several months making gifts and stocking up on traditional foods, fish and game to feed and present to the incoming crowds.

“We want to show off our wealth, so to speak,” Underwood said at the Canoe Journey 2013 Community Dinner. “And by doing so, we make gifts … and we give those to our friends and relatives and our visitors who have traveled here.”

For those who venture out on the ocean or tribal members who make their way of life on the water, being part of the canoe journey can be a life-changing experience.

“Knowing not only you but 10 other people in that canoe have to work together in order for that canoe to stay true,” Underwood said. “That’s a life lesson.”

The Quinaults helped train other tribes in two sessions in May and June, and their journey can be tracked in real time online at:

As a younger man, Underwood was often told that being on the ocean was part of his heritage. Being part of a canoe team teaches not only how to be self-reliant, but also how to depend on others. It’s a philosophy and way of life that applies to so many other facets of day-to-day living.

“That was something that my grandmother was trying to teach me, and I didn’t get it until the day it was revealed to me that I needed to get into that canoe and learn these ways,” he said.


Called “pullers” rather than paddlers or rowers, the canoes are traveling together because of the rugged conditions posed by an ocean-going journey. In 2002, with fog and heavy surf, the Canoe Journey also came to Taholah, only it finished by entering the Quinault River, which proved treacherous for the 45 canoes that arrived. Grenville should be a much more calm landing.

The northern group includes several tribes making the journey down from British Columbia.

Ocean-going canoes from several Naut’sa mawt Tribal Council nations are traveling from Bella Coola, along the west coast of Vancouver Island and through the Salish Sea. Pullers from Sliammon, Snuneymuxw and Malahat will join the Journey as it heads south, meeting their relations from Puget Sound in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The T’Sou-ke First Nation canoe crossed the strait, landing near Port Angeles for the last legs of the voyage, west to Makah and the open Pacific Ocean.

The B.C. connection goes back to 1989 when Quinault elder Emmett Oliver (now 100 years old) and Frank Brown of Bella Bella, B.C. first came up with the idea for the Paddle to Seattle. Nine traditional ocean-going cedar dugout canoes made the journey back then from coastal villages of Northwest Washington and B.C. to help celebrate the Washington Centennial. An added bonus to this year’s Journey will be the tall ships Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain. The ships were invited by the Quinault to escort canoes along the open coast from Neah Bay.

The theme is “Honoring our Warriors,” and the veterans who have served others.


Aug. 1: Canoes will leave Queets at about 7 a.m. They’ll arrive at Point Grenville at between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Dinner will be served between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Aug. 3: The totem pole will be put up at 12 p.m.

Aug. 4: Race canoe presentations will be given at high tide.

Prayers and medicine on the Paddle to Quinault

By Richard Walker, North Kitsap Herald

Most people watching the Canoe Journey understand the annual event based on what they see: The arrival and departure of colorful Northwest Native canoes, the indigenous songs of welcome on the shore, the clambakes and traditional dinners, the evening ceremonies.

But there’s a backstory: The people who make or prepare gifts. The people who catch the fish and gather the shellfish to feed guests. The support crews that break down, transport and set up camp — from tents to cooking stations. The pre-dawn wake-ups so canoes can get underway with the tide. The quiet times at camp, when elders and artists and storytellers pass on their knowledge. The prayer warriors who lift others up. The singers who offer songs as medicine.

It takes a lot of prayer and medicine to get through the Journey. Few things can test an individual’s physical, emotional and spiritual readiness like pulling six hours in a canoe after a few hours sleep.

Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman knows this. On July 18, he was in Washington, D.C., to be sworn as a member of the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. He flew back the next day and was present when Suquamish hosted canoes. The following morning, he was up with the tide, pulling from Suquamish to Port Gamble S’Klallam.

Eden, a 9-year-old puller from Sauk-Suiattle, told me she was so tired on the water that if she shut her eyes she’d fall asleep. But another puller would nudge her awake, and her uncle would sing songs — some traditional, some funny — and she’d pull on.

Out on the water, you have to be prepared for the unexpected. You have to trust your fellow pullers and your skipper. You have to watch for each other. You have to have respect for the water and pay attention to detail.

Respect and attention to detail are lessons that are reinforced on the protocol floor — lessons that can be applied in life.

In Suquamish’s House of Awakened Culture, two Squaxin canoe family members fell during a dance in which one dancer carried another. When the dance was concluded, they returned to the spot where they fell, and a leader sang over them with a deer hoof rattle. Everyone in the house stood. The leader then shook hands with Forsman and apologized to him, assuring him that the family did not mean to disrupt the evening’s ceremonies.

Doing this was important. John Cayou, a Shaker Church minister from Swinomish, said earlier in the Journey that, to respect the water, it’s important to have good thoughts out there, with no anger or resentment.

And so, the mishap on the floor of the House of Awakened Culture was resolved. The dancers could put it behind them. And the songs, like the Journey, continued.

The songs and dances were powerful. The sound of drums and singing voices filled the house. Women danced in regalia — black and red shawls, some fringed, some with button or embroidered designs.

Then, Squaxin offered a Power Song that had belonged to John Slocum, the founder of the Indian Shaker Church. Among those dancing: Ray Krise, who uses a wheelchair. “The song gave me the strength to leave my chair and do another round here, something I never thought I’d be able to do.”

In Port Gamble S’Klallam’s House of Knowledge longhouse, songs were medicine for a visiting canoe family member who talked about her teen son’s suicide. Songs were medicine for a visiting canoe family member  who said he was stepping down as skipper because he felt his own behavior lacking. In bringing their pain to the floor, they ensured that they wouldn’t have to travel their journey alone. Just like on the water.

Francis James of the Sacred Water Canoe Family said later it felt good to “sing a few songs and lift up hearts in happiness.”

I remembered what Suquamish’s chairman said back at the House of Awakened Culture: “These things can have a healing process. The Journey will help heal, but we have to set our egos aside and let the energy on this floor heal us.”

The prayers and songs continued to carry canoe families through the trials of the Journey: Canoes that got caught in the tide. The canoe that overturned en route from Port Townsend to Jamestown S’Klallam. Canoes that had to turn back en route to Elwha Klallam because of rough seas. At some point, they all got back in the water and continued the Journey.

No. 8 of the “Ten Rules of the Canoe,” by the Quileute Canoe Family, states, “Being on the Journey, we are much more than ourselves. We are part of the movement of life. We have a destination, and for once, our will is pure, our goal is to go on.”

And so they did.

— Richard Walker has been covering the Canoe Journey since the 2004 Paddle to Chemainus. He will report from the Quinault Nation, the final destination in this year’s Journey.

History Sails Full Circle as Tall Ships Escort Northwest Native Canoes

on Arel/Coastal ImagesLady Washington, left, and Hawaiian Chieftain will escort 100 canoes.

on Arel/Coastal Images
Lady Washington, left, and Hawaiian Chieftain will escort 100 canoes.

Richard Walker, Indian Country Today Media Network

The first tall ships that visited Quinault territory were harbingers of European and American empirical designs. And not all of those visits ended well.

The first European visitors were, presumably, Spanish explorers, arriving off what is now Point Grenville in the schooner Sonora on July 11, 1775 to claim the land for Spain. That visit ended with a bloody battle between Quinault men and the Spanish crew. (Quinault Nation treasurer Lawrence Ralston has a uniform emblem found on the Lower Quinault River confirmed by Spain to be of Spanish origin, circa the 1700s.)

Next came the Americans, in 1788, to trade; then the British, in 1792, to flex their claim on the area and assign British place names. The U.S. inherited Spain and Britain’s claims in the Pacific Northwest through a series of treaties between 1819 and 1846—although nobody asked the Quinaults for their thoughts on the matter. Treaties with indigenous nations and attempts to force the assimilation of the first peoples followed.

The new landing site for cedar canoes hewn by a new generation of Native carvers (Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission)
The new landing site for cedar canoes hewn by a new generation of Native carvers (Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission)


Next month, during the annual Canoe Journey, history will come full circle when the tall ships Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain escort up to 100 canoes—from First Nations in Washington and British Columbia—as they travel along the open coast from Neah Bay in Makah Nation territory to Taholah at the Quinault Indian Nation, which hosts the journey, August 1 to 6.

The Canoe Journey has “made a tremendous contribution to public education about the heritage of Native people and tribes and First Nations of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia,” Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp says. “The events have also contributed mightily to the cultural reinvigoration of Native people and the connection between Indian and non-Indian governments and communities.

“By inviting the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain to participate in this event, protocols are being followed which were neglected by tall ships of the past. This could thus be viewed as an opportunity to help make some amends for some past transgressions. Moreover, the participation of these tall ships in this event also helps convey a message that tribal and nontribal communities choose to look forward to and work together on a collaborative basis toward common objectives.”

The Quinault Nation invited the tall ships to escort the canoes this year because 2013 is the 225th anniversary of first contact between the U.S. and the Indigenous Peoples of the Pacific Northwest. “We are very excited to be able to participate in this important cultural event,” says Les Bolton, executive director of the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, which owns the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain.

“2013 marks the 225th anniversary of the first contact between the newly independent United States and the rich coastal cultures of the Pacific Northwest,” says Bolton. “Since that first contact seven generations ago, our world has changed significantly. We want to encourage all people to consider where we began, where we are today, and give thought to the world we want our descendants, seven generations from now, to inherit.”

Launched in 1989 as part of the Washington State Centennial, the Lady Washington is a wooden replica of one of the first U.S.-flagged ships to visit the West Coast of North America. In 1788, the original Lady Washington arrived off the coast of what would later become Oregon to trade with the area’s Indigenous Peoples for furs, then sailed north past Quinault territory en route to Vancouver Island.

The modern Canoe Journey traces its roots to 1989, when educator Emmett Oliver of the Quinault Nation and Frank Brown of the Heiltsuk First Nation in British Columbia developed a canoe journey to be held in conjunction with the Washington State Centennial celebration. The resulting event—the Paddle to Seattle from indigenous lands in Washington and Canada—generated interest among other Northwest Coast Native peoples who wanted to revive the traditional form of travel on the ancestral marine highways. The Canoe Journey has been an annual event since 1993; the Quinault Nation last hosted in 2002.

During the journey, canoe families visit indigenous territories en route to the host destination and share their cultures. Each Canoe Journey is a logistical feat for host destinations, which provide meals and gifts to thousands of guests and host about 100 cultural presentations over a period of a week.

The journey is a feat of fitness for pullers. Pulling long distances in a canoe requires emotional, physical and spiritual fitness. Pledges to be alcohol-free, drug-free and, in many cases, smoke-free, are required. That’s had a tremendous impact on younger pullers.


Spanish emblem (circa 1700s) found in Lower Quinault River (Courtesy Lawrence Ralston)
Spanish emblem (circa 1700s) found in Lower Quinault River (Courtesy Lawrence Ralston)


Indigenous languages are spoken on the journey, particularly at the canoe landings when skippers ask hosts for permission for pullers to come ashore, and at evening ceremonies when traditional dances and songs are shared.

The journey features beautiful cedar canoes carved by a new generation of Native carvers. And the participation of Indigenous Peoples from around the world has grown each year. Among the participants in recent journeys: Ainu (an indigenous people in Japan), Native Hawaiians, Maori, Tlingit and Yupik. “Cedar canoes are deeply significant to our people,” Sharp explains. “Not only do they reflect a connection with the art and practicality of our past, they represent a statement of our commitment to sustain our values and legacies into the future. They are a living embodiment of Northwest tribal tradition, a powerful bond that strengthens our cultural, economic and environmental resolve. They are a reflection of our identity, as individuals and as nations.”

The Canoe Journey is empowering to young pullers. Courage and perseverance are learned on the water and from stories shared by elders. At the Canoe Journey skippers meeting February 23, George Adams, Nooksack, told of his grandmother’s residential school experience, how her mouth was taped shut because she refused to stop speaking her language. For his grandmother, the tape “was a badge of honor. She didn’t give up speaking her language. There are people who have stories on the journey. Listen to the stories, listen to the songs.”

The journey has done a lot to build bridges between Native and non-Native communities as well. Exposure to cultural activities associated with the journey has helped break down barriers and grow cultural understanding. “The Canoe Journey is an event that can help tell people throughout the country that the tribes are still here,” said Sharp, a lawyer and administrative law judge who is also president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re alive and well and we will be heard.”

There are other significant aspects of this Canoe Journey:

Restoring a Sacred Gathering Place
The landing will be at Point Grenville, Washington, where the Spanish landed in 1775 and which the British visited and named in 1792. “We want to acknowledge the historical significance of Point Grenville,” Sharp said. “Our Creator blessed our ancestors with ancient knowledge, a sacred and beautiful gathering place, a rich culture, economy, and heritage that were actively practiced at Point Grenville. After centuries of Quinault occupation, Spanish and foreign greed and a desire to lay claim to our lands led to bloodshed and war.”

In the 1930s, Quinault created a scenic park at Point Grenville. The site later became home to a U.S. Coast Guard LORAN Station. For the past three decades, Point Grenville has been vacant. For the Canoe Journey, Quinault has developed or is developing on Point Grenville beach access trails, lawns, a flag pavilion, and viewing areas. The nation is installing three carved-story poles that symbolize Quinault spirituality, sovereignty, and restoration. “This year, our generation [is] restoring the spiritual, cultural and economic significance of our sacred gathering places, starting at the most westerly point of our tribal homelands,” Sharp said. “This year, the entire world will celebrate this restoration and the beauty of our people, lands and ancestral inheritance.”

Monitoring Marine Health
Several canoes will again be outfitted with probes that collect information about water conditions: dissolved oxygen, pH levels, salinity, temperature, and turbidity. Data collected in each Canoe Journey since 2008 are being processed and mapped by the U.S. Geological Survey to help identify signs of climate change, impacts from development, and changes in the levels and types of nutrients and pollutants washing into the ocean.

It’s the melding of one of the oldest technologies on the sea—the carved cedar canoe—with some of the newest technology. Each stainless-steel probe is two feet long and two-and-a-half inches in diameter, and trails the canoe at a depth of six feet, according to the survey. On the trailing edge of the probe are sensors that collect water-quality data every 10 seconds. The data are transmitted to a data logger on board the canoe, and the latitude and longitude is automatically recorded via global positioning system. “When we are able to so capably use traditional tools to achieve such contemporary objectives, a special connection is made that underscores the significance of knowing and understanding tribal history,” Sharp says.

“That is a lesson I hope people will learn from the journey—that there are solutions to the challenges we face today in the annals of our history. Challenges, such as climate change, ocean acidification, water pollution and even social and economic challenges can all be far more easily resolved if we choose to learn from history. Even with today’s computer technology, so many answers to the challenges we all face today are in the wisdom of the ages.”

Honoring Those in Uniform
The theme of this year’s journey is Honoring Our Warriors, a tribute to Native men and women in uniform. “We feel it is important for people everywhere to know that tribal members have been first to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces,” Sharp said, and at a greater number per capita than any other ethnic group. “They deserve every honor we can bestow on them.”

For further information on the 2013 Canoe Journey, visit