LITTLE BOSTON Pullers in the 2014 Canoe Journey are in
for a long one, a 500-miler to the territory of the Heiltsuk First
Nation Bella Bella, British Columbia. They'll be richly rewarded
for the experience.
They'll travel through territory so beautiful it will be impossible
to forget: Rugged, forested coastlines; island-dotted straits and
narrow, glacier-carved passages; through Johnstone Strait, home
of the largest resident pod of orcas in the world; along the shores
of the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest remaining tracts
of unspoiled temperate rainforest left in the world.
They'll also travel waters that are increasingly polluted and
Pullers will travel the marine highways of their ancestors,
past Victoria, which dumps filtered, untreated sewage into the Salish
Sea. They'll travel the routes U.S. energy company Kinder Morgan
plans to use to ship 400 tanker loads of tar sands oil each year.
Canoes traveling from the north will pass the inlets leading to
Kitimat, where crude oil from Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline
would be loaded onto tankers bound for Asia; Canada approved the
pipeline project on June 17. Canoes from the Lummi Nation near Bellingham
will pass Cherry Point, a sacred and environmentally sensitive area
where Gateway Pacific proposes a coal train terminal; early site
preparation was done without permits and desecrated ancestral burials.
Young activist Ta'kaiya Blaney of the Sliammon First Nation
sang of her fears of potential environmental damage to come in her
song, "Shallow Waters":
"Come with me to the emerald sea / Where black gold spills into
my ocean dreams.
"Nothing to be found, no life is around / It's just the sound
of mourning in the air."
Native leaders hope the Canoe Journey calls public attention
to the fragility of this environment.
"We need to wake up to what's happening to Mother Earth," said
Cecile Hansen, chairwoman of the Duwamish Tribe and a great-great-grandniece
of Chief Seattle.
"We're the indigenous people of the land. If anybody should
be raising that flag, it should be Native Americans."
Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman is pulling in the Suquamish
canoe to Bella Bella.
Journey is a cultural, spiritual, ceremonial and social event,"
he said. "The Journey can provide a platform for expressing our
Tribal values that include habitat protection and improving or protecting
water quality. Decisions on if and how to participate in political
expressions are decisions made by each Tribal canoe family individually."
Micah McCarty is a former chairman of the Makah Nation and a
member of the board of First Stewards, which seeks to unite indigenous
voices to collaboratively advance adaptive climate-change strategies.
He sees the Canoe Journey as an exercise in Tribal sovereignty,
particularly in the realm of environmental education.
U.S. v. Washington, also known as the Boldt decision, reaffirmed
that Treaty Tribes had reserved for themselves 50 percent of the
annual finfish harvest; a later court decision extended that to
include shellfish. In addition, Boldt established the state and
Treaty Tribes as fisheries co-managers.
"The state-Tribal co-management relationship relative to
US v Washington is more effectively built on Tribal governments
assuming more and more of the federal trust responsibility in the
spirit of self-governance and by directly investing in Tribally
determined education," he said.
"Native sovereignty is as good as it is practiced and implemented.
No one else can do this for us, and the best investment in sovereignty
is education by Indian sovereign design including curriculum
pertaining to treaty resource damages [caused by] climate change
and carbon pollution, particularly in the form of carbonic acid."
The Canoe Journey is itself a tool to monitor the health of
the sea. In each Canoe Journey since 2008, in partnership with the
U.S. Geological Survey, several canoes carry probes that collect
water data and feed the data into a recorder aboard the canoe. The
data measures water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH
The USGS is using the data to track water quality and its effects
on ecosystem dynamics. You can read the results from 2008-2013 at
It's the Canoe Journey's first return to Bella Bella since 1993,
when canoes made the long journey north to fulfill a vision of Canoe
Journey founders Emmett Oliver and Frank Brown in 1989 after the
Paddle to Seattle that was held as part of Washington's centennial
celebration. That 1993 journey sparked a revival in indigenous travel
on the marine highways of the ancestors.
En route to the final destination, canoes visit indigenous nations
along the way, each stop filled with sharing: traditional foods,
languages, songs, dances and teachings. Pulling great distances
can test physical and mental discipline. Traveling the way of the
ancestors can be a spiritual experience, and songs often come to
pullers on the water.
This journey will be as challenging as the 1993 journey. From
Little Boston, canoes travel west to Port Angeles, then cross the
Strait of Juan de Fuca to Vancouver Island. They'll travel north
along the east side of the island to Port Hardy, then cross big
water from Vancouver Island to the B.C. mainland. As they head north,
they'll pull through passages and channels and will have to time
each transit right so they're not pulling against tides.
More than 100 canoes participated in last year's journey to
the Quinault Nation. The distance and isolated destination in this
year's journey requires a month off for peninsula and South Sound
pullers and support crews. Heiltsuk is expecting 54 canoes.
Three Suquamish canoes and one Nisqually canoe departed from
Suquamish on June 17, moored overnight in Kingston, then arrived
at Point Julia on June 19. Those canoes and one from Port Gamble
S'Klallam will depart for Jamestown S'Klallam on June 20, then meet
up with canoes from Pacific Coast Tribes at Elwha Klallam. Canoes
will cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca on June 22 for Vancouver Island
and points north. All are scheduled to arrive in Bella Bella on
Among those traveling part of the journey: Marylin Bard of Kingston,
Emmett Oliver's daughter. She will travel in a five-person river
canoe that was gifted to her father by the Quinault Nation last
"We will be traveling the 'Old Way,' carrying our own supplies
on the canoe," she wrote in an email. "No support boat, no hosting,
just camp along the way. [We] plan to fish and crab for food."
Get more information about the 2014 Canoe Journey/Paddle to
Bella Bella: www.tribaljourneys.ca.