Suquamish celebrates 30th anniversary of revival of canoe culture

Smoke from the fires cooking hundreds of pounds of seafood filled the air in time with the distant sounds of drum beats to songs of welcome and carried over the shores of Puget Sound as the Suquamish welcomed over 60 canoes to its shores July 19.

Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman stood on the shore, accompanied by Suquamish royalty to welcome the canoes in the traditional way. Canoes would come as close to shore as they could without touching the shore, those in the canoe would put their paddles in the air, all this as a sign of respect for the hosting tribe and ask permission to come ashore.

Requesting permission came in multiple forms, from traditional songs, traditional language and asking in English. One young person from the Heiltsuk Tribe introduced themselves both in their native language and in English, providing both their native name and English name.

“Hello, my name is Jax Frey, of Heiltsuk, we humbly ask permission to come ashore to share a hot meal, dances and songs and to enjoy your culture.”

Forsman would have a special, personal message for each canoe that arrived, whether it was about the distance they traveled or the relationship they have to the Suquamish, but the format was always consistent.

“Welcome to Suquamish, my name is Leonard Forsman, my given name is Gvui. Please come and rest, share our food and share in our songs and dances. We are thankful to you for carrying on our way of life.”

Along the shore, offering the travelers immediate relief were sailors and Marines from Naval Base Kitsap, who carried the canoes from the water to their resting places by the House of Awakened Culture.

“Every year that we do this we leave smarter, better educated and more understanding of the culture,” said NBK’s commanding officer, Alan Schrader.

Once all the canoes had arrived, the seafood feast and protocol began.

According to one of the cooks, they were expecting to feed roughly 6,000 people over the course of the next two days.

Following the feast was protocol, which is a time for each tribe to share their songs, dances and stories with one another. This year’s protocol was particularly special because it commemorates the 30th anniversary of “Paddle to Seattle,” the journey which revived the canoe culture in many Coast Salish tribes, including the Suquamish.

Paddle to Seattle served as the Coast Salish Tribes’ way participating in the centennial celebration of Washington State in 1989.

At this event, the tribes were “challenged” by members of the Heiltsuk tribe to paddle to Bella Bella, British Columbia next year, sparking a new tradition. In the years to come, new locations along the Salish Sea would become host to the canoes as they paddled. Along the way, the canoes would seek shelter with other nearby tribes. This year, the host is the Lummi Nation, near Bellingham.

The Suquamish announced during the protocol period that they will play host in the summer of 2024, the last time they hosted was in 2009.

Ken Park is a reporter with Kitsap News Group. Ken can be reached at

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