Tulalip rowers, other tribes come together for annual canoe journey

The Tulalip Tribes hosted a number of other tribes, who arrived in their canoes on the shores of Tulalip Bay during the late afternoon of July 11, as part of the assembled tribes' 21st annual canoe journey.

Nine canoe crews, plus one from Tulalip, took part in a formal welcome ceremony on the beach behind the Tulalip Tribes' longhouse, during which the Tribes invited the rowers ashore in order of which ones had traveled the farthest distances.

Tulalip Tribal member and longtime participant Jason Gobin was not able to take part in the full journey this year, but he helped escort the canoes, as they gathered in one procession into Tulalip Bay, on board the Tulalip Tribal Police's 40-foot-long marine enforcement vessel.

"You cover about 25-30 miles in a day's worth of rowing," said Gobin, as the canoe crews approached the makeshift village of tents and RVs that had sprung up to shelter them during their overnight stay on shore. "That adds up to about 6-10 hours of pulling a day. I've done as many as 15 hours, but you get a little loopy after that," he laughed.

Gobin began taking part in the tribal canoe journeys in 1997 and met his future wife during their 1999 journey together. He's mentored younger tribal members through practice sessions of a couple of hours each night, one to two times a week, to get them into physical condition for the rigors of rowing, and he's shook his head as they've gotten sunburned after saying they didn't need sunscreen.

"Life vests leave you with weird tan lines," Gobin said. "This one new girl had shown up as we were talking about doing the journey in 2000, and she said, 'I was in grade school back then.' All I could think was, 'Man, I'm old. You were in first grade when I was on my first journey.' We have pullers on journeys now who I remember from when they were babies."

The ages of canoe crews on these tribal journeys have ranged from 12 to 70 years old during Gobin's time, and while he laughed about the culture shock that some of the younger rowers experience when they realize that their cell phones don't get service at a lot of stops along the way, modern technology has nonetheless helped tribal members participate in and follow the progress of the journeys. Shawn Peterson, a Puyallup Tribal member related to the Fryberg family of Tulalip, has kept track of which groups are hitting which legs of their journeys on Facebook.

"A lot of folks use strip canoes because the logs aren't available like they used to be," Peterson said. "We've moved to those methods because they're more effective and they deal with the reality that, in a lot of cases, we're all logged out. As somebody who carves, our traditions are based on values of efficiency, so rather than doing things out of these romantic notions of the past, we need to respect the limited resources of our environment."

Peterson added that the preservation of traditional canoes in tribal museums allows many groups to use those vessels' lines as guides for milling new canoes.

While modern conveniences have facilitated certain aspects of the journeys, everyday obligations make it difficult for many tribal members to get involved in the process as much as they'd like. Even as Gobin wished that more young people would volunteer to take part in the journeys, he and Peterson acknowledged the difficulties of taking time off their jobs and away from their homes to make the extended trek, which culminates in nearly a week spent at Neah Bay as guests of the Makah Tribe July 19-24.

In the meantime, tribes from as far away as British Columbia and Alaska shared filling meals in the gymnasium of the Tulalip Tribal Center on Totem Beach Road July 11. Suquamish Tribal members Lord Newman, Douglas Paul and Ray Natraoro filled up on chicken and barbecue pork to replenish their strength after paddling from Canada, while members of the Alaskan Tlingit Tribe sang and danced to express their gratitude to their Tulalip hosts. As Swinomish Tribal member John Cayou helped feed his baby granddaughter, Jai-Lee James, two of the canoe crew skippers chatted over plates of buttered potatoes and pasta salad.

Tulalip Tribal member Taylor Henry, 19, and Walter Clark, 24, of the Lummi Nation are both first-year skippers who have been pulling in tribal canoe journeys for the past six years. Both men credit family members with getting them involved, but the love they've developed for the practice has kept them active as rowers.

"I just do what my crew wants," Clark said. "They're my eyes in the front and tell me how to steer. I followed my family on the journeys to carry on their legacy, but I've met so many people that I've sung and danced with that it's just good medicine.

"It's just like now," Clark said, gesturing to the Tlingit Tribal members as they performed. "People just get up and start singing and dancing. Sometimes, your spirit can feel beat up inside, but moments like this bring you back up. Besides, you never know if you'll find somebody who's related to you along the way," he laughed.

"I couldn't say what my favorite part of the journey is because I love everything about it," Henry said. While Clark admitted that refraining from smoking during the journey can be difficult, Henry considers the hardest part of the journey to be "leaving on the last day, and waiting a whole 'nother year for the next journey."

Gobin appreciates seeing younger tribal members getting back in touch with their cultural roots through the journey, as well as forging bonds with their families and fellow members of tribes, both their own and others.

"People need something more in their lives," Gobin said. "I grew up fishing, and I'd rather be on the water than in an office. With the Internet and cell phones and everything else, everything moves so fast now, so it's nice to slow down and be a normal person for a while."

You can learn more about the 2010 tribal canoe journey by logging onto or

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