All throughout canoe journey, unsung heroes were everywhere. These were the people who made everything tick, giving of their time and talents to make sure everything ran as smoothly as possible – from the kitchen and dining tents, to security, bus transportation and beyond.
One of these unsung heroes was Sally Johnson. Non-native and a resident of Puyallup Nation Tribal Housing with her husband Norman (Tlingit), Sally was on kitchen duty during protocol at Chief Leschi, doing any number of jobs asked of her like chopping fruits and vegetables, washing dishes, cleaning, sweeping floors, staffing the elders’ eating area and much more.
“I saw her every morning working during daily breakfast and
she worked in the food prep area too,” said Puyallup Nation Housing Authority ROSS Coordinator Eugena Buena-Douglas. “She also made her own regalia during culture nights and danced with the Puyallups during the grand entry. Needless to say, I am very proud of her. It was inspiring to see her each day.”
Sally said she looked forward to her new job every day. “I was really excited about it. I’d get there early to get going because they really needed people to help things run smoothly. We all worked really hard and absolutely everyone who worked with me seemed happy to be there.”
Eugena had initially planted the seed for Sally to work during canoe journey, having mentioned it to her knowing that Sally was looking for some extra income. Sally pursued the idea at the canoe journey job fair, eager to help the Tribe for a higher reason than just getting paid. Eugena and Tribal Council had helped Sally and Norman at a time when they needed it most, and Sally had found a way to give back by working hard at canoe journey.
Soon after the Johnsons moved into tribal housing, their young daughter Rachael passed away from a massive stroke. She would have turned 19 years old last month. Rachael was a lovely and outgoing young woman who didn’t let Down syndrome get in her way.
“Rachael was our princess, and very loving,” Sally said. “Everyone who met her fell in love with her.”
Her mom and dad were devastated by losing her, and their grief was punctuated by how much money it was going to take to give Rachael a proper burial. When they had nowhere else to turn, Eugena stepped in to help, taking the Johnson’s story to Tribal Council. Without hesitation, Council provided the Johnsons with a casket and Pendleton blanket, and arranged for two maintenance workers at Tribal Housing to deliver the casket to the funeral home. Rachael now is resting in peace at Mountain View Cemetery.
“Eugena came to our door and said, ‘Okay, everything’s fixed. You can have funeral at any time,’” Sally said. “This Tribe and the cemetery worked together to help us. The only ones who came through for us and helped us all the way through was the Puyallup Tribe. This is the reason why I feel so close to the Tribe and wanted to work for the Tribe.”
Sally experienced more joy with the Puyallup Tribe when making her own regalia at Tribal Housing with help from Tribal Housing’s Northeast Gym Coordinator Lucia Earl-Mitchell, tribal Culture Activities Coordinator II Angeline Totus, and experienced weaver Denise Reed, all sharing their skills and knowledge at Tribal Housing Culture Nights.
“When I was walking by the gym, I saw Lucia and she said she was making dinner for Culture Night. They were making regalia for canoe journey and I asked if I could make a wing dress. Lucia said sure. I came almost every week until I got the dress done, and they taught me how to weave the cedar headband and belt,” Sally said, noting that she enjoyed and felt inspired by the men drumming and singing while groups of families worked on their regalia.
On the last day of canoe journey protocol, Sally worked as a server then danced with the Tribe, something she said she’d never forget.
“I did the blessing of the grounds dance. I was the only one in a red dress but I didn’t care – I wanted to be out there,” she said. “They also told me to sit with the Puyallup tribal elders so I did.”
When it came time on the last day of protocol for the Puyallups to honor groups of canoe journey workers, Sally said the high point for her was being in the middle of the arena with her co-workers, hearing the applause and Tribal Council members thanking them one by one. She also finally got the Native blanket she had always wanted.
“I was so happy,” she said. “I have it on my bed now,”
If every canoe journey story could be gathered and made into a book, its chapters would be in multitude and bursting with all that is good. And while there are so many canoe journey participants out there now going on with their daily lives in the “real world,” the canoe journey medicine is no doubt working in their lives through memories like Sally’s that will forever hold a place in their hearts.