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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 31, 2003 - Issue 88


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Walking In The Sand ...
Conclusion: Part Four

by Awo Saw Duk

Departing HohThis day completed our stopover at the village of the Chalat people, territory of the Hoh Tribe. The signs of nature this morning were telling me that the weather was changing. Observing the seagulls flying about anxiously, hearing the breathes of the wind blowing through the tree tops, feeling the moisture in the air (and more so on our tents as we shook them dry to store them for our next stopover) made my instincts hint to me that today was not going to be smooth sailing day especially as we watched canoe after canoe, shoot through the mouth of the Hoh River, with the first canoes encountering gentle ocean swells while the following canoes encountered the ever increasing roughness of the ocean's mystical powers. The sight of one of our canoes being hit by a huge wave and shooting nearly straight up in the air flinging paddlers out into the water confirmed to me that today was not going to be a smooth sailing day, one that would evolve into one of our greatest challenges, While Walking in the Sand ...

Today's challenge was for our canoe's to make a fifteen-mile journey south to the Quinault village of Queets. Departing the shores of Hoh was actually quite amusing. The canoes passed through the mouth of the Hoh one by one. Some of them shot through virtually unaffected by the oceans swells while others were caught in, on, and above the swells. These crews were fun to watch while anticipating large swells that would toss them about and thinking that we were going to be one of the last to pass through while the swells were building ever higher ... Our turn was a bit intimidating, watching and counting the swells, one, two, three, four, and five. The crew leaning forward, eyes staring straight ahead, paddles at the ready, awaiting my voice command of "Paddles In, Weela! Weela! Weela EEE!!!"

Canoe ParadeWe actually made it out to sea with no problems. We cut through a couple swells and over a couple larger ones that made the experience quite exciting. Exciting enough to make us want to go back and try it again but out to sea, on to the south we had to go. Paddling along the coastline in the early morning, we began our ritual of singing songs and telling stories of the past night's Potlatch. These part of our journeys are always fun because we have so many paddlers with so many stories to tell (some of them are really funny) and we make songs for certain ones, such as the Mosquito Song (for a certain somebody who will be getting a bit embarrassed while reading this :)~

The morning paddle felt good as we traveled just outside of the breakers along the shoreline, feeling the oceans mist on your face while riding though the troughs of big swells. Low hanging clouds clinging to the treetops of the evergreen rainforest were quite the sight to see as we rode up and over the tops of swells and back down into the troughs where all you could see was a wall of water on both sides of you. The sounds of the breaking surf becoming louder and louder as the height of the swells grew became more and more intimidating. As we rode over the tops of the swells I also began noticing that fog banks were developing both onshore and out on the sea and recognized that it would soon engulf the entire coastline. This was becoming quite concerning whereas this portion of the shoreline has some rather large rock outcroppings scattered about and not to mention Destruction Island (at the time we did not want to think much about the name of island as much as acknowledging that it was there) all this making it very dangerous for our canoes and support vessels to be traveling through these waters. These conditions were making our journey very dangerous whereas all our canoes were stretched out in a single file extending for miles. There were a few canoes that stayed close together and this was good because some of these canoe crews had never been out on the open ocean. By now, the fog had become so thick you could barely see from one canoe to the other and soon the fog conditions became even worse, were you could barely see from one end of the canoe to the other. For our crew, these conditions did not bother us too much, for myself anyways. I have been exposed to many situations such as these and relied upon my past experiences traveling through and working on these waters in conditions much greater in danger than these but this time, we had twenty-five canoes out in the fog. Support boats were frantically calling to each other trying to determine their positions in contrast to other crews and support vessels. A few of our vessels had Geographical Information Systems on board. Some had Radar Systems on board. Some had both systems. Some had none ...

On Our Way SouthA few of the experienced crews tried to lead the other canoes out of danger. Away from the breaking surf and rock outcroppings. Danger was not easily acknowledged as one of our canoes found out. They were one of the first canoes to depart Hoh and tried to maneuver their canoe into the Queets River but were swamped by a large swell that spilled the crew overboard, into the cold Pacific Ocean for nearly half an hour. Luckily we were traveling in the summer months when the water temperature at the surface is warmer allowing for a little more exposure time before hypothermia overcomes life functions.

The life saving instincts that I learned became very precious at this time. As we encountered ever-increasing dangers I managed to keep our crew calm and functional. I found strings of crab pots that were laid out in north to south directions that I confirmed on my compass that was attached to my windbreaker coat. We followed these pots and kept the swells, which I knew to be southwesterly swells to our starboard side knowing that we were outside of the danger areas of the large swells, rock outcroppings, and breaking surf. The sounds of a support boat soon became audible then the outline of a canoe became visible.

We had come across one of Tulalips canoes. We called out to them informing them that we were underway and headed for Point Grenville, another thirty-five miles away. So, we were on our way, Tulalips following our lead, traveling through fog so thick the light from the sky was a grim dark gray.

Being in conditions like this really sharpens your senses. We could hear sea birds chattering that we hadn't noticed previously. We could hear sounds of vehicles being driven on the highway which, was a way of telling how far south we were getting because the highway turns away from the ocean as you get into Queets territory. By this time were running out of crab pots to follow and the sounds of traffic were no longer audible so I had to rely on my compass (those of you who have used compasses in forested areas on land know the feeling of when you think your compass is wrong and you want to change directions, well, imagine being out on the ocean, in the fog and having that feeling,,, good thing I knew the ocean swells direction confirmed my compass bearings). About this time the winds began picking up.

The winds began kicking the sea up into conditions that are referred to as Small Craft Advisory conditions by the United States Coast Guard. The conditions we encountered were one to three foot high choppy waves on the top of the sea's regular swells. We had maneuvered our canoe out far enough to be outside of the large swells but the ocean did give us didn't allow us any smooth sailing. At this time, the Tulalip support vessel was receiving distress calls from many other support vessels. These vessels were trying to group up all the canoes and travel the extra thirty-five miles together. We could hear horns from boats in towards shore moving out to safer waters. My crew had to slow our progress and at times go back and search for the Tulalip vessel. This was really time consuming and energy consuming to our crew. Eventually we grouped up with many other canoes and support vessels and slowly, worked our way for hours, to Point Grenville. The National Oceans and Atmospheric Administrations research vessel Tattoosh was very instrumental in getting our canoes and support vessels to our seemingly endless destination and I would like to thank them, Siokwil, for I believe that if not for their assistance, we would have lost some of our people to hypothermia and to the sea.

When we did arrive at Point Grenville, I saw flares shooting up from and over the water for the first time. This was quite the site while coming up on my Quileute cousins who were waiting in their canoe and support vessel just of the point and followed us in to shore. We could see lights shinning from the shore, from vehicles that were parked along the beach trying to signal us in to safe waters. As the Tattoosh tossed our lines clear from tow, we paddled towards the beach with a great desire to get back on land and to see that everyone be comforted as much as possible whereas we realized some of the canoes were unaccounted for and some crew members were unaccounted for. As time passed all the emergency actions that we all exercised enabled us to arrive at our extended destination as safe as possible. For some of us pullers who have many years of experience, this was not our most challenging experience whereas I know personally that there have been many moments where our canoe crews have met and conquered some of the most death defying events while at sea.

Once on land, some people kissed the sand, others embraced family members, while some raised their hands in Thanks. Some just sat at the fires that were built on the beach and stared into the fire.

Salmon Bake
Cooking Elk

Staring into the community fire-pit in the village of Taholah was much more pleasurable. There were hundreds of Quinault Sockeye Salmon, commonly known as Blueback, cooking on sticks over alder fires with deer meat and elk meat on racks right beside. Gallons and gallons of clam chowder, fry bread, and pies awaited the guest. Each day hundreds of volunteers prepared meals throughout the day, conducted emergency services, communications and coordination services, and community services. The National Guard provided assistance and facilities for sanitary purposes. The whole community had come together to host the thousands and thousands of visitors who came to Celebrate Tribal Journeys.

Welcoming CeremonyOur Celebrations included the Welcoming Reception of the ocean going canoes where the shores of Taholah were packed with thousands of people cheering and respecting the crews of these canoes while honoring our Ancestors. The Quinault Nation hosted a three day long Potlatch where each and every crew was honored for their bravery and courage; where all of our Chiefs from all the tribes present were recognized and honored with eagle feathers and other gifts; where all the tribes were provided opportunities to Potlatch in their traditional styles. Where children shared in the festivities with their families, carrying on our ancient traditions of being Human Beings.

For myself, after many years of traveling all throughout Tribal Country, from the Atlantic Coast to Pacific Coast, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of Alaska, for me, these were Very Special Times, coming Home to Quinault, While Walking In The Sand ...

Photo Gallery (click on the image for a larger view)

Canoe Parade
On Our Way South
Departing Hoh
Wolf Dancers
Welcoming Ceremony
Paddle Dancers
Potlatch Drummers
Cooking Elk
Salmon Bake
Little Miss Quinault
We Made It!

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