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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


July 12, 2003 - Issue 91


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Cultural Cruise

by Elaine Wilson Anacortes American
credits: photo by Elaine Wilson

The canoe's name, Xechnginglh, means ‘Our hearts and minds are one.' With a bald eagle, a seal and members of other Canoe Families present to bear witness, the Samish Indian Nation blessed its new family canoe and revealed the craft's name on Saturday, marking the Tribe's return to the waters around Fidalgo Island after 60 years.

Samish Tribal Chairman Ken Hansen said it has been his dream to see his people return to the water in a black family canoe.

"It is medicine for our people. It's who we are. We can't separate ourselves from the water. We can't separate ourselves from the canoe," he said.

The 31-foot Northern style dugout canoe was made from a 300-year-old cedar log by Vancouver Island native carver Angus Smith. It was blessed in a private ceremony early Saturday at Seafarers Memorial Park, then again in a more public ceremony later that day. A group of paddlers prayed and cleansed the canoe with cedar boughs, then took it out on its maiden voyage around Fidalgo Bay.

Hansen told the paddlers to listen to the water, the wood in the canoe and the teachings of their ancestors. He said the canoe is not a thing that could be purchased at a hardware store, and that learning from it will make them stronger.

"It's a living spirit. Take care of it," he said. "You must follow the teachings."

After the new Samish canoe was blessed and its name revealed, it was paddled on a maiden voyage around Fidalgo Bay on Saturday — under the watchful eye of an eagle, a seal and witnesses from other Canoe Families. The canoe's name, Xechnginglh, means ‘Our hearts and minds are one.'

Leslie Eastwood, Samish health and human services director, said a committee debated about naming the new canoe. Finally, they went to the canoe and prayed.

"She came up with her own name," Eastwood said.

The name, Xechnginglh, means "Our hearts and minds are one," she said.

Swinomish Speaker Larry Campbell said he was pleased to see the Samish Nation take another step forward and prepare to participate in a Northern Canoe Gathering in July. He said it is important to "share the myths, legends and teachings with one another."

Campbell invited everyone present to pray for the canoe's safe journeys and advised paddlers to make sure their minds and bodies were one on the canoe.

"When you are divided, the canoe bogs down and goes slow," he said.

He said the canoe brings families together, promotes leadership in the young people and connects old and young.

"We had three generations of Samish out on the canoe today. We had the elders and the youth as well," said Samish Vice Chairman Tom Wooten. "We are kind of scattered to the winds. This really brings people back."

Years of economic dislocation forced people to move away to find work. At the same time, bureaucratic errors left the Samish without a reservation or federal recognition. However, the tribal government stayed active and kept track of its members. Since federal recognition was regained a few years ago, the council has been working on economic development and has started to acquire land.

Hansen said the return of the people and the traveling canoe to Samish territory was another step forward.

"This is another great day for the Samish. Every day we get together is a great day for the Samish. It always makes my heart stronger and happier to see the people come home," Hansen said.

Wooten said this canoe is just a start.

"Our next plan is to make our own. It's a learning experience for us. That's our ultimate goal. That will bring us full circle," he said.

The canoe project started as a part of a drug and alcohol abuse prevention program.

"We had young people step forward and say, ‘We want to do this for our people,'" Wooten said.

Judging from the comments of teenage paddler Jeff Wooten, the effort is already having a positive effect on Samish youth.

"It means family heritage to me. It's getting to do something my ancestors did," Wooten said. "I've been to every single practice."

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