Canoe Journey Message: Protect Our Fragile Environment

Tracy Rector/Longhouse MediaThe Heiltsuk First Nation is hosting 31 canoes from Pacific Northwest indigenous nations. That number was provided by the manager of the Paddle to Bella Bella Facebook page. Canoes arrived July 13; the week of cultural celebration continues through July 19.

Tracy Rector/Longhouse Media
The Heiltsuk First Nation is hosting 31 canoes from Pacific Northwest indigenous nations. That number was provided by the manager of the Paddle to Bella Bella Facebook page. Canoes arrived July 13; the week of cultural celebration continues through July 19.

 

Richard Walker, Indian Country Today

 

 

 

En route to the territory of the Heiltsuk First Nation, pullers in the 2014 Canoe Journey traveled through territory so beautiful it will be impossible to forget: Rugged, forested coastlines; island-dotted straits and narrow, glacier-carved passages; through Johnstone Strait, home of the largest resident pod of orcas in the world, and along the shores of the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest remaining tracts of unspoiled temperate rainforest left in the world.

They also traveled waters that are increasingly polluted and under threat.

Pullers traveled the marine highways of their ancestors, past Victoria, British Columbia, which dumps filtered, untreated sewage into the Salish Sea. They traveled the routes that U.S. energy company Kinder Morgan plans to use to ship 400 tanker loads of heavy crude oil each year.

Canoes traveling from the north passed the inlets leading to Kitimat, where heavy crude from Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline would be loaded onto tankers bound for Asia, a project that Canada approved on June 17.

RELATED: First Nations Challenge Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline in Court

Canoes from the Lummi Nation near Bellingham passed Cherry Point, a sacred and environmentally sensitive area where Gateway Pacific proposes a coal train terminal; early site preparation was done without permits and desecrated ancestral burials.

RELATED: Lummi Nation Officially Opposes Coal Export Terminal in Letter to Army Corps of Engineers

Young activist Ta’kaiya Blaney of the Sliammon First Nation sang of her fears of potential environmental damage to come in her song, “Shallow Waters”:

“Come with me to the emerald sea / Where black gold spills into my ocean dreams.

“Nothing to be found, no life is around / It’s just the sound of mourning in the air.”

RELATED: Young Sliammon Actor/Singer Campaigns Against Pipeline

Canoes from Northwest indigenous nations arrived in Bella Bella, British Columbia on July 13; the gathering continues until July 19 with cultural celebrations, a rally against Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, and an indigenous economic summit. The ceremonies are being livestreamed online at Tribal Canoe Journeys 2014 :: Qatuwas Bella Bella.

Mike Williams Sr., chief of the Yupiit Nation and member of the board of First Stewards, noted that the Canoe Journey route calls attention to the fragile environment that’s at stake. First Stewards, an indigenous environmental advocacy group, will host a symposium on “Sustainability, Climate Change & Traditional Places” from July 21–23 in Washington, D.C.

“The Canoe Journey is a really big statement to us to hang onto our culture and our way of life, and to bind people together,” said Williams, who is also a well-known musher. “In the Iditarod, there are pristine places but there are also old mining towns [on the route] where we’re told not to drink the water.”

The parallels between the water issues encountered on the Iditarod and the Canoe Journey are unmistakable, he added.

“In the Canoe Journey, there are pristine waters and there are waters that contains toxic substances,” Williams said. “There’s oil and the continuous leaking of pipelines. It happens.”

Not only does it happen, but it does not go away. Prince William Sound has never totally recovered from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Williams said. Likewise, he added, if the Northern Gateway pipeline, the coal trains and increased shipping come to fruition, an environmental disaster is inevitable.

“It’s going to happen,” Williams said. “There has to be total, thoughtful conversation for everyone—consider all the possible impacts. And there has to be meaningful consultation with the tribes. They have to weigh in on that. We’ve got to make it 100 percent fail-safe or don’t do it.”

 

The Heiltsuk First Nation's hosting of the 2014 Canoe Journey included a rally against the Enbridge pipeline. Canoes arrived in Bella Bella, B.C., on July 13; the week of cultural celebration continues through July 19. (Photo: Tracy Rector/Longhouse Media)
The Heiltsuk First Nation’s hosting of the 2014 Canoe Journey included a rally against the Enbridge pipeline. Canoes arrived in Bella Bella, B.C., on July 13; the week of cultural celebration continues through July 19. (Photo: Tracy Rector/Longhouse Media)

 

State Senator John McCoy, D-Tulalip, is a citizen of the Tulalip Tribes. He is the ranking member of the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee, which focuses on such issues as climate change, water quality, toxic chemical use reduction and cleanup, and management of storm water and wastewater.

“I think the message is, pollution is occurring everywhere,” McCoy said of the takeaway from the Canoe Journey. “It’s a worldwide problem, and it needs to be addressed. If we keep polluting our water, we’re going to be in big trouble. Water is the essence of life.”

Canoes were underway for Bella Bella on July 9 as Governor Jay Inslee announced that he wants to increase the recommended fish-consumption rate in the state from 6.5 grams to 175 grams a day—that’s good news for indigenous peoples, for whom fish is important culturally, spiritually and as a food. But for 175 grams of fish to be considered safe to eat, businesses that pollute will have to conform to tougher pollution control standards.

RELATED: New Fish Consumption Guidelines More Political Than Scientific, Northwest Tribes Say

Inslee’s plan for how toxic substances will be controlled in expected in December. It will require legislation, McCoy said.

Jewell James is coordinator of the Lummi Treaty Protection Task Force and a leader in the effort to prevent a coal train terminal from being built at Cherry Point, a sacred area for the Lummi people and an important spawning ground for herring, an important food for salmon.

James said environmental degradation is just part of a series of historical traumas set upon Indigenous Peoples: First, the diseases that came after contact; then the treaty era and the relocation to reservations; then the cultural and spiritual oppression of the boarding school era, and then the termination era.

“Yet we continue to exist,” James said. And the Canoe Journey, now in its 23rd year, has helped “revitalize and breathe new life into our cultural knowledge” given that journey gatherings are venues for the passing down of stories about how the ancestors lived in and cared for the environment that sustained them.

RELATED: 10 Traditional Foods You Might Enjoy During a Canoe Journey

James hopes people on the Canoe Journey connect with and carry on those stories and values.

“There are messages in those stories,” he said. “And within those stories there are sacred symbols that mean something—that you have to be careful with what you do, and others have to be careful with what they do, to Mother Earth.”

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/07/17/canoe-journey-message-protect-our-fragile-environment-155904?page=0%2C1

Canoe Journey’s message: ‘We need to wake up to what’s happening to Mother Earth’

The canoe from Suquamish embarks on this year's journey to Bella Bella.— image credit: Richard D. Oxley / North Kitsap Herald

The canoe from Suquamish embarks on this year’s journey to Bella Bella.
— image credit: Richard D. Oxley / North Kitsap Herald

By Richard Walker, North Kitsap Herald

LITTLE BOSTON — Pullers in the 2014 Canoe Journey are in for a long one, a 500-miler to the territory of the Heiltsuk First Nation — Bella Bella, British Columbia. They’ll be richly rewarded for the experience.

They’ll travel through territory so beautiful it will be impossible to forget: Rugged, forested coastlines; island-dotted straits and narrow, glacier-carved passages; through Johnstone Strait, home of the largest resident pod of orcas in the world; along the shores of the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest remaining tracts of unspoiled temperate rainforest left in the world.

They’ll also travel waters that are increasingly polluted and under threat.

Pullers will travel the marine highways of their ancestors, past Victoria, which dumps filtered, untreated sewage into the Salish Sea. They’ll travel the routes U.S. energy company Kinder Morgan plans to use to ship 400 tanker loads of tar sands oil each year. Canoes traveling from the north will pass the inlets leading to Kitimat, where crude oil from Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline would be loaded onto tankers bound for Asia; Canada approved the pipeline project on June 17. Canoes from the Lummi Nation near Bellingham will pass Cherry Point, a sacred and environmentally sensitive area where Gateway Pacific proposes a coal train terminal; early site preparation was done without permits and desecrated ancestral burials.

Young activist Ta’kaiya Blaney of the Sliammon First Nation sang of her fears of potential environmental damage to come in her song, “Shallow Waters”:

“Come with me to the emerald sea / Where black gold spills into my ocean dreams.

“Nothing to be found, no life is around / It’s just the sound of mourning in the air.”

Native leaders hope the Canoe Journey calls public attention to the fragility of this environment.

“We need to wake up to what’s happening to Mother Earth,” said Cecile Hansen, chairwoman of the Duwamish Tribe and a great-great-grandniece of Chief Seattle.

“We’re the indigenous people of the land. If anybody should be raising that flag, it should be Native Americans.”

Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman is pulling in the Suquamish canoe to Bella Bella.

WEB-Peg-Deam-flag“The Journey is a cultural, spiritual, ceremonial and social event,” he said. “The Journey can provide a platform for expressing our Tribal values that include habitat protection and improving or protecting water quality. Decisions on if and how to participate in political expressions are decisions made by each Tribal canoe family individually.”

Micah McCarty is a former chairman of the Makah Nation and a member of the board of First Stewards, which seeks to unite indigenous voices to collaboratively advance adaptive climate-change strategies.

He sees the Canoe Journey as an exercise in Tribal sovereignty, particularly in the realm of environmental education.

U.S. v. Washington, also known as the Boldt decision, reaffirmed that Treaty Tribes had reserved for themselves 50 percent of the annual finfish harvest; a later court decision extended that to include shellfish. In addition, Boldt established the state and Treaty Tribes as fisheries co-managers.

“The state-Tribal co-management relationship relative to … US v Washington is more effectively built on Tribal governments assuming more and more of the federal trust responsibility in the spirit of self-governance and by directly investing in Tribally determined education,” he said.

“Native sovereignty is as good as it is practiced and implemented. No one else can do this for us, and the best investment in sovereignty is education by Indian sovereign design — including curriculum pertaining to treaty resource damages [caused by] climate change and carbon pollution, particularly in the form of carbonic acid.”

The Canoe Journey is itself a tool to monitor the health of the sea. In each Canoe Journey since 2008, in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey, several canoes carry probes that collect water data and feed the data into a recorder aboard the canoe. The data measures water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH and turbidity.

The USGS is using the data to track water quality and its effects on ecosystem dynamics. You can read the results from 2008-2013 at http://wfrc.usgs.gov/tribal/cswqp/.

It’s the Canoe Journey’s first return to Bella Bella since 1993, when canoes made the long journey north to fulfill a vision of Canoe Journey founders Emmett Oliver and Frank Brown in 1989 after the Paddle to Seattle that was held as part of Washington’s centennial celebration. That 1993 journey sparked a revival in indigenous travel on the marine highways of the ancestors.

En route to the final destination, canoes visit indigenous nations along the way, each stop filled with sharing: traditional foods, languages, songs, dances and teachings. Pulling great distances can test physical and mental discipline. Traveling the way of the ancestors can be a spiritual experience, and songs often come to pullers on the water.

This journey will be as challenging as the 1993 journey. From Little Boston, canoes travel west to Port Angeles, then cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Vancouver Island. They’ll travel north along the east side of the island to Port Hardy, then cross big water from Vancouver Island to the B.C. mainland. As they head north, they’ll pull through passages and channels and will have to time each transit right so they’re not pulling against tides.

More than 100 canoes participated in last year’s journey to the Quinault Nation. The distance and isolated destination in this year’s journey requires a month off for peninsula and South Sound pullers and support crews. Heiltsuk is expecting 54 canoes.

Three Suquamish canoes and one Nisqually canoe departed from Suquamish on June 17, moored overnight in Kingston, then arrived at Point Julia on June 19. Those canoes and one from Port Gamble S’Klallam will depart for Jamestown S’Klallam on June 20, then meet up with canoes from Pacific Coast Tribes at Elwha Klallam. Canoes will cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca on June 22 for Vancouver Island and points north. All are scheduled to arrive in Bella Bella on July 13.

Among those traveling part of the journey: Marylin Bard of Kingston, Emmett Oliver’s daughter. She will travel in a five-person river canoe that was gifted to her father by the Quinault Nation last year.

“We will be traveling the ‘Old Way,’ carrying our own supplies on the canoe,” she wrote in an email. “No support boat, no hosting, just camp along the way. [We] plan to fish and crab for food.”

Get more information about the 2014 Canoe Journey/Paddle to Bella Bella: www.tribaljourneys.ca.