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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


August 10, 2002 - Issue 67


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Paddle to Quinault 2002 Under Way

by Paula Horton - Daily World Writer

TAHOLAH - Hundreds of years ago, just about everyone here was familiar with the quiet slurping sound that paddles make as you slice them through the ocean waters.

It was a common sight to see cedar canoes filled with tribal members who sang as they propelled themselves forward, drawing strength in song during the long hours spent navigating the Washington coast.

Those sights and sounds faded as years went by, but new generations of tribal members are striving to revive the tradition by making annual canoe journeys and holding potlatches.

"These journeys are for the youth," said Phillip Martin Sr., a Quinault Indian Nation member. "It's there to encourage them to take the old ways of the ancestors - no drugs, no tobacco, no alcohol, respect for each other and respect for themselves."

Nearly a week ago, members of the Suquamish Tribe set out on the first leg of their tribal journey from the Kitsap Peninsula. By the time they reach Neah Bay on the Makah Reservation at the tip of Olympic Peninsula today, they will have traveled about 106 miles along the waters of the Puget Sound and the Straight of Juan de Fuca, picking up other tribal canoes along their way.

By this coming Saturday - Aug. 10 - about 35 to 55 canoes from tribes in Washington, Canada and Alaska will have traveled another 95 miles - this time in the Pacific Ocean - to the mouth of the Quinault River at Taholah.

After being hosted by the Makah Tribe at Neah Bay, the canoes are schedule to set off on Tuesday for their first full day of travel on the ocean. The first stop will be at Ozette, about 24 miles down the Pacific from Neah Bay.

On Wednesday, they'll travel another 24 miles to La Push, about a four to five hour pull, and on Thursday they'll make their way to Hoh River.

The canoes are set to land in Queets on Friday for their final stop before entering the mouth of the Quinault River at Taholah on Saturday.

Quinault canoes lead the way

Leading the way will be two canoes from the Quinault Indian Nation - one from the village of Taholah and one from the village of Queets - in the Paddle to Quinault 2002.

The 34 - foot canoe from Taholah is called the May - ee, which means beginning. It was carved in 1993. The 33 - foot cedar canoe from Queets - called Lee - choe - ees, which means upper village or village on the hill - is actually making its first tribal journey.

"The feeling of the community of Queets right now is one of big pride," said Martin, who has been serving as an adviser and coordinator for the celebration. "They're happy; they're ready.

"Any anxiousness and nervousness will get washed away with the first stroke of the paddles coming home," he added. "When that canoe of Queets returns äthere will be a celebration for a long time, even after all the drums have gone home."

About 45 tribal members from Taholah and Queets will make the journey from Neah Bay. Some members of the group will leave today for Neah Bay and others will leave early Monday morning.

The original plan was to leave last week, travel by canoe up to Neah Bay and the guide the rest of the canoes back to Taholah, but final preparations kept the canoes grounded.

The 45 members making this year's journey, includes "pullers," as the people in the canoes are called, and support crews. A support boat travels along the waterways with the canoes for emergency situations and to carry the relief pullers.

Once in Taholah, 2,500 to 5,000 members from various tribes will take part in a three - day celebration, Aug. 10 - 12, which will include feasts, dancing, ceremonies, storytelling, sharing times and more.

"The best word to describe my feelings would be almost overwhelmed by the event that will happen here," said Pearl Capoeman - Baller, president of the Quinault Indian Nation. Taholah has a population of about 1,000. "Just when you think of the pure magnitude ä it's exciting. It's something new for a lot of our tribal members."

Preparing since 1998

The Quinault Canoe Society - Ta?alunauW, which means ocean navigators in the Quinault language - has been preparing for the tribal journey since they extended an invitation to other tribes in 1998.

The return of traditional ocean - going canoe travels emerged in 1989 when nine traditional cedar dug - out canoes made their journey to the Port of Seattle.

The Paddle to Seattle, as the journey was called, sparked new interest in learning and living the coastal culture among Washington Tribes. The paddle began with the Quileute Tribe, who were joined by the Quinault, Lower Elwha Klallam, Port Gamble S'Klallam, Jamestown S'Klallam, Makah, Suquamish and the Duwamish.

A group from Bella Bella on Vancouver Island also joined the journey and issued a challenge to paddle to their home in 1993.

In 1997, tribes paddled to La Push, for yet another traditional canoe journey to heighten the awareness of native people and their culture.

The purpose of the journeys is to celebrate and travel the highways of tribal ancestors and to keep the canoe culture, songs and dances vibrant.

"Canoes were the principle means of transportation," said Sasha Harmon, an associate professor in American Indian studies at the University of Washington. "People thought of the water as the highway and a bridge, rather than a barrier."

Looking back 300 years ago, Harmon said it would be hard to find tribal members taking inter - tribal recreational long - distance trips. But in the 19th century, historians can start to find evidence of long canoe trips to other communities.

"For example, we know that people from the middle of the British Columbia coast showed up in the Puget Sound in the mid - 19th centuries in canoes," she said. "We know that people from different villages and different communities would certainly go on expeditions together."

Harmon said upper - class tribal members would generally marry outside their village, meaning people would eventually have in - laws and other various relatives in other communities, and those members would be invited to visit other communities.

"People with the means would also host various kinds of gatherings that drew people from a number of communities," she said. "People ä came to call those gatherings - potlatches - and people always came in canoes, even if they were just coming down the river."

Potlatches give both ways

The first known potlatch for the Quinault people was around 1800, according to the Quinault Historical Foundation. Tribes and villages from Vancouver Island and Southern Oregon were invited.

As visitors came ashore, people gathered to greet them with songs and presents and three days of activities ensued. The host challenged the visiting tribes to give a return potlatch and the tradition carried on.

"I've observed potlatches from people who have gathered for years, everything from food to clothing to necklaces to carvings," Martin said. "It's giving both ways - we try to give to everyone something for everyone to remember us by."

In addition to gift exchanges, potlatches also include songs and dances and a show of appreciation to the guests, Capoeman - Baller said.

Traditionally, when canoes entered a tribe's or nation's territory, paddle tips were pointed upward to signify a peaceful entry. There's also a protocol that has to be followed before canoes can come ashore.

"Crews that traveled the farthest are the first to make their presentation," Martin said.

Presidential greeting

As the canoes travel up the Quinault River in Taholah, the Quinault president must greet the tribal members as they ask, in their native languages, for permission to come ashore and eat and greet and rest.

"It's exciting and it's new for me," Capoeman - Baller said. "There's a lot of traditions involved in this that I haven't been involved in before."

Besides helping youth and others who make the journey find strength through the ancestors, the paddle journeys have a way of bringing communities together as they prepare to host other tribes.

"It's almost like it renewed the community and reminded them what culture is all about," she said. "It's a good feeling for the nation to host the celebration and do something that hasn't been done for nations and nations."

The tribal president said it's hard to grasp the significance of the event unless it's witnessed personally.

"Watching as the canoes that look like toothpicks out in the ocean come in ä it's an awesome sight," she said. "It's just really a heartfelt experience."

Martin agrees. He was in Port Angeles last week as he watched 13 canoes welcomed ashore by the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe.

"Oh man, to me it's a real spiritual life," he said. "I was so happy and elated. ä I grabbed my drum and vest and drummed with the rest of the tribes from the coast, singing them in."

Quinault Indian Nation

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