Bringing  the competition at the  Annual Canoe Races

By Wade Sheldon, Tulalip News

Over the May 4th weekend, the chilly and wet weather couldn’t dampen the spirits of diverse and determined canoe pullers. Hailing from various tribes across Canada, Washington, and Oregon, they gathered at Tulalip Bay to compete in Tulalip’s 2024 Annual Canoe Races. With more than 70 talented contestants from different tribes putting their skills to the test, the air was thick with anticipation, enthusiasm, and tension. Competitors were determined to leave it all on the water and earn a chance to claim the coveted trophy and cash prizes that awaited the champions.

The races were a testament to strength and teamwork. The excitement was palpable as contestants paddled out and lined up between the buoy and the line judge, eagerly awaiting the sound of the horn. The atmosphere was charged with the sea’s smell and the waves crashing against the shore. It was a breathtaking sight as the massive wooden vessels would take a few pulls to gain momentum. Still, once everyone was in sync, they would gracefully glide through the water towards precisely placed buoys throughout the bay until crossing the finish line, with the cheers of the spectators echoing in their ears.

“I have been in canoe races for 30 years,” Nooksack’s Russell Roberts said. “I love seeing everyone coming out and working together. Also, getting all the youth out here to participate is a blessing. That’s why me and my brother’s canoes are made up of kids. It means a lot to have these races. My grandfather is the one who got the family started. He’s been gone for quite a few years now, and we hope we can continue his legacy for my kids and, hopefully, my grandkids.

This year’s Tulalip canoe races saw more youth participants than adults, indicating a growth in the sport’s ability to bridge traditional practices with changing times. With four different age groups to participate in, kids of all ages were able to embrace the elements and try their might on the bay.

11-year-old Kora from Nooksack said, “I have been participating for five years. You have to make sacrifices to be able to participate in the races. It takes a lot of time and dedication to get good, keep up, and even win. My favorite part of this weekend was being on the water with my cousins. I say for all the new people who want to try it out, have fun, and be ready for anything.”

The water offered many challenges, each presenting an opportunity for personal growth. Lavarian Webster, a 19-year-old from Cultus Lake, Chilliwack, BC, seized these opportunities, participating in over ten races. His journey is a testament to the transformative power of these races, as he harnessed his skills and pushed his limits.

“My favorite part about this weekend has been getting back out to the races and hanging out with everybody,” Webster said. “This is my third season of racing, and I feel like I got off to a good start. Keeping the canoes alive and on the water is important to the native people. Having an event like this gives people from different villages a chance to get involved with one another. It was a great weekend, and I’m glad I got to be a part of it.”
Despite the cloudy and sunless weather, the competitors persevered and showed their tenacity in canoe racing. The determination and passion demonstrated by the competitors were truly inspiring. It reminded us that even when faced with adverse conditions, we can still achieve greatness if we keep pushing forward. As Russell Roberts said, “It’s just what we do!”

As the final echoes of paddles cutting through water fade into the distance, the 2024 Annual Canoe Races at Tulalip Bay leave behind more than just the thrill of competition. They serve as a reminder of the resilience, unity, and cultural pride shared among Indigenous communities across the region. Beyond the trophy and prizes, the true victory lies in the bonds forged, the traditions upheld, and the memories created on the waters of Tulalip Bay.