Canoe journey visits Tulalip
August 28, 2008 · Updated 10:40 AM
TULALIP It was gridlock at the beach as more than 80 tribal canoes landed at Tulalip Bay last week during a stop on their way to the Lummi Indian Reservation. Scores of canoes plied the calm waters of the Tulalip Bay, stacking up like airliners at Sea-Tac International Airport.
The 2007 Intertribal Canoe Journey attracted thousands to the reservation as paddlers on the beach met peddlers on the shore, and natives of just about every band, nation and tribe from the coast met in a feast of friendship.
They were all making their way to the Lummi Stomish Grounds near Bellingham, where as many as 12,000 people were expected for the Lummis first traditional potlatch since 1937.
Under a bright sun the bay filled with canoes on the horizon coming from Hat Island. Crowds cheered as tribe after tribe paddled to the shore, beaching in front of the Tulalip Longhouse and tying up to each other as they waited for formal permission to land from Tulalip leaders.
This was the 13th journey since 1989 and last years final stop at the Muckleshoot Tribe hosted an estimated 40,000 visitors. Its a big deal for natives and a source of pride to be able to provide for that many friends and relatives, according to many tribal members.
Gene Sampson is a member of the Hoh Nation, near Forks on the Washington coast, and he has been paddling during the event since 1996. He was attracting lots of attention with his cedar bark hat topped with a skinned coyote, with another skin wrapped around his waist for good measure. He has paddled with the Hoh canoe for years, but this year he stayed ashore while his mate was in the canoe. He said the canoe journey was a powerful way to relive and revive tribal culture, especially for the coastal Indians.
Its hard to get our kids away from their iPods and Xboxes and things like that, Sampson said. A lot of them think its over, but these canoe journeys teach them that its still going. One ride, one circle, and its for life.
He cited one tribal friend who had faced his share of challenges and burdens. He wasnt looking too good but after an infusion of pride and culture he looked like he won $10 million dollars.
Sampson works to maintain the native language and songs, and took great pride in his drum witch featured an eagle curled over a map of the Puget Sound region, with a canoe superimposed overall. The eagle is named Eli, and the beater is an eagle too, this one named Woolio. Woolio is a son to Eli, Sampson explained.
This is my diary, he said, pointing to the many stops and journeys painted on the worn leather skin.
Hi cuz, love you, good to see you, he shouted to a passerby as he elaborated on his mission to revise the coastal Salish songs of the Quinalt and Quileute tribes. The music is the right bait to lure youngsters back to their heritage, according to Sampson.
Its about the songs that change our people. This way those kids learn the respect.
Lummi Indian Patrick Georges tribal name is Ctsamahzoot. He was particularly proud of the fact that his nation could host the thousand of visitors due to hit town on July 30. The canoe journey attracts tribes from all over the Pacific Northwest including many from British Columbia. The Intertribal Canoe Journey will be the Lummis first potlatch since 1937.
The pride is going to speak for itself, George exulted as canoe after canoe tied up along the shore below. Were doing the best we can to make everybody welcome.
George said his tribe started paddling at the Lower Elwah Tribe, and has prayed and meditated at each stop.
Its a good, clean spiritual life, George said. Were trying to leave our notch in our life.
Tulalip Tribes general manager Shelly Lacy said it was much more than a family reunion to her and her peers. The Tribes hosted the journey in 2003.
It just makes our heart happy that our relatives visit us each year, Lacy said. Its coming together again as a people to celebrate who we are as a people.
The paddlers waited for more than an hour as tribal leaders welcomed them from the bluff hanging over the bay, often enduring the jibes of Tribal leader Mel Sheldon, Jr. as well as greetings from Tribal board members Marie Zackuse, Glen Gobin and Tony Hatch.
We are honored by your presence and your song and I hope we can get to know each other better tonight, Sheldon said. He promised a good feast and warm showers for everybody.
The potlatch will last for about five days and features many events. Sampson said it is a time for healing and forgiveness. Its nothing to see family members apologizing to each other in front of 5,000 or 6,000 people, and many outcasts or long-lost members are brought back into the fold, he said.
Ive seen families patch each other up on these journeys, Sampson said.
He laughed at the memory of the 96-97 Indigenous Games, where a contingent of Royal Canadian Mounted Police manned two fiberglass shells and joined 40 other canoes at a similar event. That was bridging two very different cultures and the intertribal journey is the same thing, on a much larger scale.
You didnt need phones to make that connection, Sampson said.