PORT TOWNSEND — Youths from a Quinalt canoe family learned songs from a Duwamish teacher in a Tribal Journeys camp Wednesday, spinning and drumming in a space between tents.
This year’s Paddle to Makah is the Oliver family’s second canoe journey and the far-flung clan is leaning on the help of other tribes to reclaim its traditions.
“My family is so scattered,” Marlene Oliver Dixon said. “We don’t even have a song of our own.”
Port Gamble S’Klallam canoes departed Port Gamble on Wednesday. Crews will pull for five days to the Makah reservation, alongside canoes from neighboring Suquamish and more than 20 other tribes. The canoes land in Neah Bay July 19, beginning a week of ceremony and celebration.
Canoe families show their strength on the water but the diversity of the Journeys experience truly shines in the camps and protocol ceremonies in the evenings.
By the time the canoes were pulled high on the beach at Fort Worden State Park on Wednesday afternoon a tent city had already sprung up on the hill above.
Food was cooking under pavilions and children were chasing each other from camp to camp. There were no protocol ceremonies that night, but soon drumming and singing resounded from family circles.
Members of a dozen different tribes mingled in the camp. But even close family members were reconnecting, Francine Swift of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Canoe Family said.
“It’s a chance to visit people you don’t always get to spend time with,” Swift said. “Our lives get so busy sometimes.”
The Journeys family is growing each year. This year there are pullers from as far as Greenland, Alaska and New Zealand.
“It’s becoming very international,” Swift said.
Three hundred years ago, not all these tribes would have shared a camp peacefully, said Wesley Wells Olin of the Nisqually Tribe. There were often conflicts between Puget Sound tribes and bands to the north.
Those old hostilities have long faded, and canoe journeys have been bridging borders between tribes for two decades.
“I’m glad it’s not the way it used to be,” Wells Olin said. “We’re different tribes, but we’re really one big family.”
The journey has brought together members of the Oliver family, spread across the Northwest.
Dixon’s uncle Emmette Oliver organized the 1989 Paddle to Seattle — the forebear to Tribal Journeys — but the family didn’t build its own canoe until last year.
Marie Oliver Sagaberg came from Oregon to join her family on this year’s journey to Neah Bay.
“This is new to us,” Oliver Sagaberg said, watching Quinalt youth practice dancing Wednesday. “And it’s new to our young people.”