It was a perfect Northwest summer afternoon on Saturday, July 28, as hundreds of people gathered at the former Ole and Charlie’s Marina in anticipation of canoes arriving for the 2018 Power Paddle to Puyallup. Coming by the busload from the shuttle point at the Puyallup Tribe’s riverboat casino on Alexander Avenue, people of all ages, colors, creeds and ancestry witnessed this historic event that was nearly two years in the planning – and two decades in the making. It had been 20 years since the Puyallup people hosted this canoe journey, and by all accounts it was a day no one will soon forget.
While the actual arrival of canoes wasn’t scheduled to begin until 11 a.m., observers began filing in as early at 8 a.m. to mingle and find their own perfect vantage point. Looking out over the crowds, the variety of native handmade cedar hats illustrated what a golden opportunity this was for members of many tribes to come together for a day full of spiritual goodwill, pride in being native – and just plain excitement. The canoe journey theme, “Honoring Our Medicine,” was given life in this way, just one of many ways that healing took place through the power of the canoes and the life-giving waters that carried them to the Puyallup reservation.
The landing site itself was something to be celebrated. For more than 100 years this area at the mouth of the Hylebos Waterway was kept from the Puyallup Nation until the Tribe reclaimed it earlier this summer and renamed it “dxʷłalilali” in the Tribe’s indigenous language Lushootseed – “a place where to come to shore.” In the recent past, canoes visiting the Tribe were greeted at Owen Beach in Point Defiance Park, but on this blessed Saturday there were no disinterested tourists milling about having no idea of the cultural and spiritual significance of what they were in the midst of. On this day at dxʷłalilali, it was all one big tribal family whether you were native or not. Such is the inclusiveness fostered by the Puyallup Tribe whose very name means “generous and welcoming to all who enter our lands.”
Up to 120 canoes were greeted on that day, carrying dignitaries and families from more than 100 tribes from Alaska, California, Washington, Oregon, New York, British Columbia, and as far as New Zealand. This kicked off a full week of cultural sharing and traditional songs and dances at Chief Leschi Schools.
WELCOME TO THE PUYALLUP RESERVATION
The day of canoe arrivals attracted participation from local political leaders who came to express their gratitude to the full Puyallup Tribal Council and the Puyallup membership.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, Washington State Rep. Laurie Jinkins, Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards and Fife Mayor Kim Roscoe, among others, all were there and spoke briefly. Members of Tacoma and Fife city councils were also in attendance. From the county, Pierce County Councilmember Rick Talbert was there with his wife, Tribal Relations Manager Sarah Colleen Sotomish from Dammeier’s office, and Director of Constituent Services Nima Sarrafan.
When it was time to start the welcoming ceremony, Puyallup Canoe Family Captain and Culture Director Connie McCloud gave the opening prayer.
“We had a beautiful full moon the last few nights – our Mother Moon is taking care of us because she controls the tides to allow safe passage for all our canoes to travel here,” she said.
Puyallup Tribal Chairman Bill Sterud then spoke, and he too remarked over the beauty that surrounds all of us who call the Pacific Northwest home.
“Last night I was here at sunset. There was our mountain. There was the moon. And there was a bald eagle – all coming to welcome us and give us good medicine.” To the canoe pullers and land travelers to the reservation he said, “I want to thank each and every one of you – the miles you’ve gone to be part of this so that we’re all together. This is a good place for all of us. Thank you for coming to us.”
Vice Chairman David Bean expressed gratitude as well. “We look forward to making new memories with each and every one of you,” he said to the crowd. “We are so excited to have you here today to share this medicine with each other. Our ancestors and elders have prepared us for this day – this moment – to come together as our ancestors have done for thousands of years.”
Puyallup Tribal Councilmembers Sylvia Miller and James Rideout thanked ancestors who laid the foundation for the 2018 canoe journey to even happen in the first place.
“You are on the land of (Chief) Leschi and leaders who went before us. If it weren’t for Leschi and those leaders, we wouldn’t be here today,” Rideout said. “I’m grateful to have a place that we can call home. This is our home. I appreciate all of our leadership that got us up to this point so that we can have a way of life in our way.”
“Our people have traveled these waters for many, many years and I know that our ancestors are very proud of us to keep that tradition going,” Miller said. “I welcome all of you and we love you all.”
Puyallup Councilwoman Annette Bryan said, “Our ancestors are with us today. You can feel the power and the energy….good and positive medicine. We are strong, we are resilient and we are proud Puyallup tribal people. It is such an honor to stand here on our beach with our sacred water that comes from our sacred mountain and watch our traditional canoes come in on our traditional lands.”
Councilwoman Anna Bean picked up on Bryan’s expression of pride and strength. “Over time our language, our traditions, our culture were taken from us but today we say we take it back. We are still here. This is for us – all of you – every single person here matters and you are where you are supposed to be right now. Welcome to you all.”
Sen. Cantwell’s remarks took on a more national view of Indian Country, as senior member and former chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and a staunch environmental advocate.
“We are so proud of the government-to-government relationship and the unbelievable men and women from Indian Country that have served the United States protecting and
defending us,” she said. “Thank you to all the paddlers who have worked years to get to this point so we can all share in what you already know – how important these waters are to all of us.”
When Mayor Woodards spoke, she addressed the past divisions between the city and the tribe, something she is committed to mending as mayor. As she spoke, members of the Tacoma City Council presented a handmade glass orb to each Tribal Council member “as a symbol of our appreciation and our intention to grow our relationship between your nation and our city…,” Woodards said, bringing to mind the perfect metaphor of our city’s famed Bridge of Glass. “We understand that the canoe journey teaches young people the skills and traditions of your people. In recognition of that, these gifts have been made by our young people in Tacoma who are learning a craft of our city identity. May these serve as a reminder that what has once been broken may be fused together again to make something even more beautiful, and that’s how we view our relationship.”
Then it was time to welcome the canoes ashore. One by one they pulled up, with one designated puller asking for permission to come ashore in keeping with traditional protocol. Teams of Army servicemembers and volunteers from International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) Local #23 hoisted each canoe up and carried it to shore, while the pullers, tired from their long journey, went to Chief Leschi School for dinner and an evening of relaxation and fellowship.
CANOE JOURNEY DAYS AND NIGHTS
The festivities continued throughout the following week at Chief Leschi Schools, each day filled with good medicine – cultural sharing, dances, songs, stories, giving and receiving gifts, lots of traditional Native American foods – all doing its work to heal everyone who had the blessed opportunity to be
there. Each day different tribes took the floor such that there was always something new and unique happening. It was an emotional sight to witness, as elders mixed with youth, families came together, ancestors were remembered fondly and so many members of different tribes intermingled and became good friends in this historic event.
The canoe journey protocol was scheduled to end on Saturday, Aug. 3 but it rolled into Sunday, Aug. 5 – the day that the Puyallup Tribe took the floor for a 10-hour presentation of Puyallup culture that included many songs and dances, good words and thanking and honoring all the Power Paddle to Puyallup volunteers. While Chairman Bill Sterud could not be there due to health issues, Councilwoman Sylvia Miller spoke on his behalf. “He hasn’t been able to be out here with us, so I’d like for all of you to give applause for Bill. He has been very helpful to all of this happening,” she said and applause erupted from every corner of the tent.
Each and every councilmember expressed deep gratitude to everyone who gave of their time and gifts to make the canoe journey work. It wouldn’t have happened without them, and their presence added so much to the medicine that there are not words enough to say to give back what they had given.
It was practically standing-room only for the Puyallups’ day under the big tent, which made the day all the more meaningful.
“I look across this sacred house to see the medicine that each of you have brought here – the medicine of your sacred canoes, the medicine of the sacred water, the medicine of your sacred songs and dances – honoring your elders, your youth, everyone who came to this sacred celebration today that the Puyallup Tribe has prepared,” Puyallup Culture Director and Canoe Family Captain Connie McCloud said.
Giving opening remarks, Puyallup Vice Chairman David Bean said, “I want to thank you all for being here through all the
work that has been done, to witness all the medicine that has been shared, all the stories about how this was taken away from us – how the songs and language were taken away – our ways of practicing our culture were taken away. One of our elders who left us four years ago, Billy Frank Jr., always told us, ‘Tell your story.’ We have the responsibility to tell our story of our medicine and our traditional ways.”
A few special guests were then introduced – U.S. Congressman Derek Kilmer and State Representatives Denny Heck and David Sawyer.
“I’m honored to be here and represent this community at the U.S. House of Representatives,” Denny Heck said. “I am grateful for all of this week’s activity because the truth is, when you celebrate your heritage, we are all better for it and I thank you for that.”
Rep. Kilmer, who represents 11 tribes in his 6
th Congressional District, read from a statement he prepared to read into the Congressional Record this week. It reads, in part: “Mr. Speaker, I rise to recognize the Puyallup Tribe and all participants in the 2018 Canoe Journey. Tribes from Alaska all the way to Willapa Bay have participated in this powerful cultural event. Over the last few weeks, thousands of people from dozens of tribes put their canoes in the water and connected with one another…a celebration of heritage, sharing songs and stories, dances and gifts. But beyond that they celebrated the theme of “Honoring Our Medicine”…to honor the medicine of the Salish Sea and the waters that have been the lifeblood of past generations and will be the lifeblood of our future as long as we rise to their challenge. Mr. Speaker, Congressman Heck and I have stood on this floor many times and spoken about the importance of Puget Sound, our nation’s largest estuary. The Sound is an icon of our region. It supports treaty rights and recreation; it supports shellfish growing and fisheries. …It is a legacy passed from generation to generation. It is a central part of who we are. …The tribes that participated in the paddle and Native American leaders throughout our region have shown more commitment, more leadership, more drive, more partnership and more passion for recovering this vital body of water than any others. They have seen our waters as sacred – as givers of life… Mr. Speaker, today I want to express my gratitude to the Puyallup Tribe for hosting this important event and for all that they have done to strengthen our region for so long…”
Councilwoman Miller told the crowd to give itself applause for participating. “I look at these children and elders out here dancing and it brings tears to my eyes to see that we can all come together like this an enjoy ourselves,” she said. “This is something that has been coming to us for a long time. For many, many years we have worked to bring these traditions back.”
For Councilman Tim Reynon, canoe journey meant something very special to him in his own personal life, which he shared with the audience. “I stand here today before you as one of those children that was removed from the reservation as a child before the Indian Child Welfare Act. We didn’t grow up with the canoes, in this canoe culture, so this week was the first time in my life that I’ve spent the entire week here witnessing what was happening on the floor. I have been truly uplifted and strengthened by your medicine.”
Throughout the day, songs and dances were interspersed with giving thanks to security personnel and all volunteers, the kitchen staff and grill staff, the traditional healers who worked with so many individuals throughout the week…everyone. The cooks and kitchen staff got a hearty round of applause for all the delicious and traditionally healthy foods they cooked – breakfast and dinner every day – in addition to setting up dining areas and taking them down, making sure everyone had enough to eat and paying special attention to the elders to make sure all their needs were met at mealtimes and afterward.
Canoe journey was so well planned that even the Chief Leschi School grounds were kept noticeably clean. This was thanks to the Green Team, volunteers from numerous local environmental and health agencies who could be seen everywhere throughout protocol week in bright green T-shirts. Working non-stop, the Green Team made certain that nothing compostable or recyclable got wasted. They hand picked through all the trash to separate everything, picked up discarded water bottles and trash across the campus, and kept an eye out for anything that was tossed aside on the ground.
Canoe Committee Chairman Chester Earl spoke lovingly to the crowd in appreciation and humility. “We have poured our hearts out and we love you. We have given you our best,” he
said. “We have heard many testimonies of the healing that has taken place the last three and a half weeks. Thank you to our Tribal Council, to all our elders, to the Culture Department and Connie McCloud, and thank you to the Puyallup Tribe’s Canoe Committee. I want to thank my wife, my children, my grandbaby. They have sacrificed a lot during the planning and preparation to bring this all together. Thank you.”