SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Northwest Indian tribes connect with history through canoes
Tacoma News Tribune


July 22, 2008

For centuries, Indians across the Pacific Northwest navigated the area's waterways on canoes. While much has changed for the dozens of tribes in the region, a two-week event hopes to keep the tradition alive.

Seven traditional-style canoes landed this week at Owen Beach in Tacoma, Wash. As each vessel approached the rocky shore, its skipper would stand, greet a member of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and ask permission to enter the tribe's ceremonial waters.

"This really brings our elders and our youth together, paddling the pathways of our ancestors," said Mark Anderson, the skipper of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe's canoe. "There's a great sense of unity, among ourselves and between tribes.

The Puyallups later hosted the crews for a dinner of salmon, geoduck fritters and other traditional specialties, and the participants camped together at Chief Leschi School in Puyallup.

More than 80 canoes representing tribes from Alaska to Western Washington are expected to arrive on the east coast of Vancouver Island near Duncan, B.C., when the journey concludes next week.

The paddlers pass the time on the water by singing and telling stories, which helps the youths connect with their ancestors, said Gail Miller, the skipper of the Chehalis Confederated Tribes team. Each team has a support crew that follows it along, often carrying tents, food and drinks.

"It gives them something to hang onto, something to look forward to and to continue to work on," Miller said. "Our canoe family worked year-round to get where we are today, from learning songs to training to fundraising."

Organizers praised the event for providing other benefits. Several skippers stressed the drug- and alcohol-free nature of the journey. The Puyallups are drug-testing the teenage participants, the tribe's canoe team captain said.

The trip fosters intertribal communication, Anderson said, especially between groups geographically divided. And the Squaxin Island Tribe is using the trip as an opportunity to test the water for salinity, temperature, oxygen levels and other indicators of the ecosystem's health.

The journey also presents an opportunity to get away from the hustle of day-to-day life. Squaxin tribal members left their cell phones at home and won't be watching television or reading newspapers during their trip. That helps foster a greater sense of community and self-reliance, said the tribe's Joe Seymour Jr.

"In a couple of weeks, the journey will be over with, but we'll already be looking forward to the next journey," Anderson said. "We all get a great benefit out of this. We treat each other with respect, and life's a good thing on the water."


E-mail Scott Fontaine at scott.fontaine(at)
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