will paddle hundreds of kilometres as part of annual Tribal Canoe
crews put their paddles up as the 2017 Tribal Canoe Journey
gets underway on July 17 in the Squaxin Island Tribe's traditional
territory. (Julian Brave NoiseCat)
Julian Brave NoiseCat
(Secwepemc/St'at'imc) is one of two recipients of the 2017 CJF-CBC
Indigenous Journalism Fellowships, established to encourage Indigenous
voices and better understanding of Indigenous issues in Canada's
major media and community outlets. He is reporting on the annual
Tribal Canoe Journey paddle to Campbell River, B.C. with generous
support from the fellowship.
Arcadia Point, Washington, July 17
It's Monday morning rush hour in Seattle. Just 40 miles to the south
and west, in the traditional territory of the Squaxin Island Tribe,
a very different kind of journey is about to begin.
About 50 people from the Nisqually, Puyallup, Skokomish and
Squaxin Island tribes are gathered on the rocky shores of Arcadia
Point. The point, now the site of a small waterfront subdivision,
lies just across the inlet from Squaxin Island the Squaxin
Island tribe's original
Some tribal members describe this desolate islet, where their
ancestors were incarcerated for generations, as a concentration
camp. The community relocated to a reservation on the mainland decades
Today, on the Arcadia side of the inlet, children splash in
summer water. Trucks back down the boat launch, settling canoes
and skiffs into the gentle and generous South Salish Sea. Crews
and onlookers greet old friends.
After I snap a photo, a man with ties to the Lil'Wat Nation,
where I have relatives, introduces himself. As strong men guide
canoes and boats to shore forming a loose row of beached watercraft,
elders and parents holler at kids to stop playing in the shallows.
It's important to respect the canoes.
The Tribal Canoe
Journey, an annual trans-national Indigenous voyage and gathering
that brings together communities across the Pacific Northwest from
places as far-flung as Ketchikan, Alaska and Grand Ronde, Ore.,
is about to begin.
child plays in the water at the boat launch on the Arcadia
side of the inlet. (Julian Brave NoiseCat)
One by one, five canoes of young paddlers set off from Arcadia
Point. Two each represent Squaxin Island and Puyallup and one represents
Skokomish. Before departing, each canoe circles back to shore, approaching
an expectant Squaxin delegation.
"Paddles up!" yells each skipper from the canoe's stern.
In historic times, canoes pulling aggressively to shore usually
meant one thing: war. As canoes approach landfall, crew members
put their paddles up, grips planted on the floor and tips pointing
to the sky, to show that they come in peace.
Then a young man or woman stands up, balancing delicately in
the canoe. Each thanks the Squaxin delegation for their hospitality
and asks permission to leave their shores. A single elected representative
from Squaxin responds.
As the canoes glide out to sea en route to Solo Point in Nisqually
territory, singers in the canoes and ashore let loose with the paddle
song of their respective canoe family.
This protocol will be repeated dozens of times as canoes pull
through hundreds of kilometres of seascape, making their way to
Campbell River, B.C., halfway up the eastern side of Vancouver Island
for a week of potlatch song, dance, feast and giveaway from Aug.
5 to 10.
After Nisqually, these five canoes will continue up the sound
on a special youth leg of the journey that will pass through Seattle
on Wednesday, July 19, before ending in Port Gamble on Friday, July
21. After the youth leg, these canoe families will return to their
respective home ports before continuing to Vancouver Island.
"For the Squaxin Island tribe, the canoe journey has so many
values that cannot be expressed in money," said Charlene Krise,
a tribal council member from Squaxin Island.
"But they can be expressed in what we see happens for our people."
Smith of the Skokomish tribe. (Julian Brave NoiseCat)
Point Grenville, Washington, July 18
A canoe crashing down between the waves as it pulls out to sea or
comes in to shore can split heads and break bones. "Launch and landing
are the hardest thing on the ocean," said Sonny Curley, a Quinault
tribal member skippering the lone canoe departing Quinault waters
"There's big tides, big waves and the currents are very rough."
Indigenous communities respect water for many reasons. Here
in Point Grenville, Wash., on the Quinault Indian reservation, water
is respected because it enables life, but also because it can take
The Quinault have been watching the forecast for a week. Today,
the Pacific looks like a pristine blue mirror, stretching as far
as the eye can see perfect conditions to start the journey.
As the sun rises over the treetops, casting its rays on the
water, a small contingent of about two dozen Quinault tribal members
gathers on the beach just below the point.
When I arrive at six in the morning, the men have already hauled
the canoe about 100 metres to the shoreline. Now, they are carrying
paddles, life-jackets and the day's supplies to their vessel. Today,
they will pull for eight hours, travelling about 50 kilometres to
the mouth of the Queets River on the north side of the Quinault
The Quinault and their Quileute and Makah neighbours, who make
their homes on Washington's Pacific coast, have hunted whales in
oceangoing canoes for hundreds, even thousands of years. The Makah,
whose reservation is at the tip of the Olympic Peninsula, still
It's hard to imagine men pursuing and killing a whale in a canoe.
The task seems herculean even impossible, in my mind. But
once you've seen the Quinault move together with purpose at the
crack of dawn, it doesn't seem quite so far-fetched. Humans can
do godly things when they work together.
gather at the beach to see loved ones off at Point Grenville,
Wash., on July 18. (Julian Brave NoiseCat)
The Quinault don't whale anymore, but they are still oceangoing
"Between all of us here, each of us captains, we probably have
over 10,000 nautical miles traveling these ancient highways, teaching
ocean navigating to our children," said Reggie Ward, a traditional
"That's what we're doing here this morning
those old ways in a happy way."
As at Arcadia, families have come down to the beach to see loved
ones off. In the chilly early morning hours, it's too cold for the
kids to splash in the shallows, but that doesn't stop them from
playing. Instead, they chase the tides in and out in a game of chicken.
The goal is to get your feet as close to the water as possible without
On the beach, I introduce myself to Harold Curley, Sonny's father,
a direct descendant of the legendary Chief Taholah who signed the
1855 Quinault Treaty
establishing this reservation.
"Did you hear the story of the Spaniards coming out here in
a great big battle ship?" he asked, looking out at the Pacific.
In 1775, the Spanish Empire sent a two-ship expedition under
Basque explorer Bruno
de Heceta north from Mexico to stake claim to the Pacific Northwest
against British, Russian and French rivals. The Spanish came ashore
at this beach in Quinault territory on July
12 of that year, becoming the first Europeans to set foot in
what is now Washington state.
"What happened is they came here, and there was nine Indians
who was up there cooking crabs and clams," he explained, gesturing
at Grenville Point.
"They invited [the Spanish] in, but they didn't want to eat.
Instead, they went over here and planted a cross in the name of
King Carlos III."
According to the Spanish, this land was now part of Mexico and
the Kingdom of Spain. According to the Quinault, this land was,
and still is, part of the Quinault Indian Nation.
"The next morning, [the Spanish] came in and they went off chopping
wood to fix a broken mast," he continued.
"So they sent in a john boat, and the narrator on that ship
there was about two or three narrators in each ship
said that there was 300 savages came out of the woods and came on
them and then [the Spanish] tried to chase them away by shooting
the cannons and everything, and they just seen their seven men lost."
The Spanish named the point at the end of the beach now called
Point Grenville "Punta
de los Martires" (Point of the Martyrs), after their fallen
compatriots. De Heceta never returned to Quinault lands.
"I have two cannonballs at home from that john boat," he said,
pausing to let the weight of this little-known stretch of history
sink in two cannonballs fired at his ancestors on this very
beach. "Ain't that something?"
Curley is a direct descendant of the legendary Chief Taholah,
who signed the 1855 Quinault Treaty. (Julian Brave NoiseCat)
Mid-conversation, Sonny comes over to fetch his dad. The canoe
is ready to depart, and it's time to pray. The pullers form a circle,
lock hands and bow heads as Harold asks a higher power to watch
over their journey. After the prayer, the pullers clamber into the
canoe and set out to sea, their silhouette slowly receding into
Canoe families from the neighbuoring Quileute and Makah nations
to the north will first host and then join this Quinault canoe for
the pull up the coast and around the tip of the Olympic Peninsula
in the coming days.
On July 23, this far-western contingent of Washington Indigenous
communities will meet up with canoes that began their journey in
Squaxin Island and elsewhere in the state. From there, all the Washington
tribes will cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca for Canada on July
It's a long, tiring and logistically complicated journey all
the way to Campbell River, but the Quinault wouldn't have it any
"Grab a paddle," Reggie Ward told me, grinning. "Hop in!"