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(Many Paths)
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Shinnecock Members Head West For Paddle To Nisqually
by Kelly Zegers - The Southampton Press
credits: photos by Kelly Zegers - The Southampton Press
Cholena Smith with a traditional dugout canoe, called a mishoon

Four members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation have made their way to Seattle, Washington, to join forces with other Native American tribes in the annual Tribal Canoe Journey, known this year as Paddle to Nisqually.They are catching the tail end of a canoe journey that began earlier this month, with paddlers en route to the home of the Nisqually tribe, about 15 miles east of Olympia, Washington. The theme focuses on the waters and the tribes' connection to it — which resonates with the Shinnecock who will participate.

"There's so many different things that are happening, good and bad," said Chenae Bullock, a Shinnecock whose given name, Sagkompanau Mishoon Netooeusqua, means "I lead canoe I am butterfly woman." "One, we're being taken back to the water, and, number two, we're being prevented access to the water."

It is her goal to include more Eastern tribes in future paddles, to bring light to canoe journeys on the East Coast — such as the Nimpuck Sacred Paddle from Deer Island through Boston Harbor — and to give a voice to Eastern tribes.

"As coastal people, we were placed on the coast to protect and serve the water and the land," she wrote on a GoFundMe page aimed at fundraising for the trip. "Many of our sister tribal communities no longer have water rights and are fighting for indigenous water rights."

Cholena Smith with a traditional dugout canoe, called a Mishoon

The Tribal Canoe Journey
Ms. Bullock, an activist who lives in Rhode Island and works at Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in Mashantucket, Connecticut, was invited to participate in the annual Tribal Canoe Journey on the West Coast in 2011 by Steve Anderson of East Hampton.

Mr. Anderson became a channel through which the Shinnecock began participating in the canoe journey. While on a road trip 10 years ago to the Northwest — a mission to help friends get sober — local tribes invited him to participate in a drum circle, which turned into an invitation to join the canoe voyage.

Since then, he has invited indigenous peoples to paddle with him in a canoe he bought on the West Coast. In 2011, he invited Ms. Bullock and Roddy Smith from the Shinnecock Indian Nation to paddle with him.

From there, Ms. Bullock and Mr. Anderson were inspired to organize a canoe journey on the East Coast in 2012 that began at Westwoods, tribe-owned land in Hampton Bays, and ended at Connecticut's Stoddard Hill State Park.

This year, Ms. Bullock was again invited to the Tribal Canoe Journey by Mr. Anderson, who is providing a canoe and helped organize and pay for travel to the launch site. "He's definitely going above and beyond to help us with access to the coastal ways," Ms. Bullock said.

In addition to Mr. Anderson and the Smiths, the canoe will have two more paddlers — one from the Mashpee Wampanoag community, another from Nipmuc community — and their skipper, Mr. Anderson. "We are one tribe," Ms. Bullock said, "We never put borders between any of the states or any of the towns."

Once in Seattle, the Eastern paddlers will head to their first stop in Suquamish territory, northeast of the city. From there, they will move on to the tribal territories of Muckleshoot and then Puyallup, camping overnight, before they reach a soft landing at Oddfellows Park in Olympia, Washington, set for Friday. They will travel alongside canoe families from Alaska, Canada and Washington.

They must first stop at a soft landing so that the Nisqually tribe can greet them before entering their territory. Then, all together, the flotilla will glide to the final canoe landing at Swantown on Saturday.

All throughout, paddlers will take part in a cultural exchange of food, song, dance, and stories, and they must follow traditional customs as they travel.

"I'm really looking forward to the ceremonial aspect of it, because my paddling experience has been recreational," said Aiyana Smith, one of the Shinnecock paddlers.

Gifts will also be shared, and Roddy Smith plans to present the Nisqually tribe with baleen from a 60-foot finback whale that washed ashore in Southampton in 2005.

Roddy Smith.

A Resurgence Of Responsibility
Ms. Bullock called paddle journeys exhilarating experiences that assist in "the resurgence of our responsibility as indigenous people to the water for all humanity." She points to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and another in the Southwest affecting the Navajo nation as examples to pray for during the paddle gatherings.

The theme of the canoe journey is "Don't Forget the Water."

"It's an ongoing theme about the importance of the water and protecting it and what's happening in the world," Cholena Smith said. "The waters are hurting."

It has been a personal theme for her in recent years. She took part in the People's Climate March in New York City and witnessed a ceremony in which water brought from around the world was brought together.

"We just notice those things as indigenous people," she said. "It is our responsibility, not just indigenous people, but all peoples' responsibility."

She is learning more about water and how indigenous people used water, and said she hopes to bring that experience to her tribe and others. Water is healing, she said.

Her father, Roddy Smith, said it is now important for the next generation to get involved in sharing tradition and concern for the waters.

"Let's bring those things back because it's important for us today and today's society," said Mr. Smith, who began organizing local paddle tours last year. "It keeps us strong in that way and reconnects us to the old ways, reconnects us to the environment and what really matters to us."

Aiyana and Cholena Smith

Paddling As Prevention
Canoe journeys and reconnecting with water is also a way to spread messages of sobriety and substance abuse prevention among young tribe members, Ms. Bullock said.

"When you're out there paddling, you can't be drinking, you can't be smoking, you can't be hanging out with the wrong crowd," she said. "Those are things I can see my community adopting because we once had that."

There are 10 rules of the canoe journey that fit with that message, Ms. Bullock said, one of which states, "There is to be no abuse of self or others."

Aiyana Smith is a substance abuse counselor and director of prevention services at Alternative Counseling Services, Inc. and said that while it is important to focus on water and the issues that affect it, it is also important to raise awareness about substance abuse.

"We're in a crisis, especially in Suffolk County," she said.

Ms. Smith was first introduced to a prevention program based on canoe journeys around 2008 and began working with tribal youth on those ideas.

"It's all about raising awareness about love for yourself and love for the earth and love for the water," she said.

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