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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


August 24, 2002 - Issue 68


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24 Canoes and Thousands of Indians Nearing Taholah

by Paula Horton - Daily World Writer
CanoesTAHOLAH, WA - As the misty ocean fog cleared this morning, members of the Quinault Indian Nation began last - minute preparations for a celebration that has been four years in the making.

Thousands of Indians from tribes in Washington, Canada and Alaska are making their way to Taholah this weekend for the 2002 Paddle to Quinault.

About 2,000 were expected to converge this afternoon on the tiny village of Queets, north of Taholah on the Quinault Reservation.

"It's going to be very crowded in Queets," said Phillip Martin Sr., a Quinault serving as a coordinator for the celebration. "They're working hard and they're anxious, but they're ready."

Twenty - four hand - carved cedar canoes traveling down the coast left the Hoh River this morning for a three - to four - hour ocean pull to Queets.

They arrived at the Hoh yesterday after a nearly five - hour pull from La Push.

The canoes represent the Hoh, Quileute, Makah, Quinault, Jamestown S'Klallam, Lower Elwha Klallam, Port Gamble S'Klallam, Swinomish, Squaxin Island, Tulalip, Nisqually, Puyallup, Muckleshoot, Snohomish, Squamish, Duwamish, Ahoset, Alert Bay, Osh Cukabik and Canadian First Nations tribes.

The return of traditional ocean - going canoe travel emerged in 1989 when nine traditional cedar dug - out canoes made their journey to the Port of Seattle in what was called the "Paddle to Seattle."

Since then there have been others, seen as a way to celebrate traditions, travel the highways of tribal ancestors and keep the canoe culture, songs and dances vibrant.

"It makes us older ones young and matures the young ones," Martin said.

Queets is the last stop for the canoes before tribal members arrive in Taholah Saturday afternoon for a three - day potlatch celebration. At last count, about 33 canoes and more than 3,000 tribal members were expected in Taholah.

"It's been a long - time coming since a celebration of this magnitude has been in Quinault," said Quinault Indian Nation President Pearl Capoeman - Baller. "We invite and encourage everyone to come."

For the public - and many tribal members - who have never witnessed an event like this, Capoeman - Baller said it will definitely be a sight to see.

"Women will be on the shore waving their arms and gesturing with their hands, welcoming (the canoeists) in," she said. "Men will be beating drums and singing songs, thanking everybody for bringing the canoes to us safely."

At around 2 p.m. Saturday, the ground crews - which travel ahead of the canoes to set up camp at each overnight location - will be in Taholah preparing for the arrival of the canoes at the mouth of the Quinault River.

"Observing the canoes coming in from the ocean to the river and watching the dances and listening to the songs is going to be insightful for the visitors," Capoeman - Baller said. "If guests are coming in, they definitely would not want to miss the canoes paddling in from the ocean."

At 3:30 p.m., Capoeman - Baller will begin the welcoming ceremony and tribes will come ashore according to protocol - those who traveled the farthest being welcomed first.

Once all the tribes are welcomed ashore, the members will feast on traditional foods such as elk, salmon, razor clams and much more.

"The food is going to be amazing," the tribal president said, adding that all guests are invited to take part in the events and have dinner with tribal members as long as they remember to be respectful and patient.

"All the elders eat first," she said. "That's just protocol."

If time's not a factor, Capoeman - Baller encourages people to attend the potlatch that begins at around 8 p.m. in the Taholah School Gym.

"The beginning of the potlatch portion of the event will be really interesting to watch," she said. "The Quinaults will get up and begin with a song. They'll be doing a lot of singing and dancing as they give gifts to everybody."

Capoeman - Baller said the potlatches last a long time because "these people could easily dance and sing for 20 hours."

Patience will definitely be a virtue during the three - day celebration, Martin added.

"Nothing happens at a regular pace," he said. "The potlatch will start in the early evening and probably won't end until 3 or 4 o'clock the next morning."

As the potlatch ends, most of the tribal elders will head off to the Quinaults' homes to sleep while other members camp out in tents in the ball field, near the tribal office and on lawns around the village.

"We try to make it as restful as possible when it's impossible to rest," Martin said.

Though the event is a "social gathering" for the tribes and the canoes - and a learning experience for many of the youth - Martin said they're "not discouraging anybody from taking part in anything. "But we're here to first take care of our (tribal) guests."

Information booths will be set up around the village.

Parking is limited, but shuttle buses will make rounds around the village every 10 to 15 minutes. The shuttle buses are primarily to transport the elder people into the village, but Martin said if the buses aren't full, people can flag it down and catch a ride.

The most important thing for the general public to remember is to "be very respectful of the culture and what is being shared with them," Capoeman - Baller said.

Martin adds that he hopes everyone who "witnesses" the event will appreciate the celebration, cultural significance and experience of the historical gathering.

"They will be witness to what's happening here and they will take it home with them," Martin said. "We pray that all the things that they observe here are of what we call good heart, so nobody goes home hurt."

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