Tribal Canoe Journey celebrating 30 years in Suquamish

Traditional ocean going canoes are scheduled to land at the Charles Lawrence boat ramp this Friday, as the Suquamish tribe welcomes other tribes of the Coast Salish for the 30th anniversary of the annual canoe journey.

These annual canoe journeys began in 1989 with the “Paddle to Seattle” which was part of the centennial celebration of Washington State. At the time, canoe culture had largely disappeared from many of the Coast Salish tribes, including the Suquamish.

The Suquamish only had two traditional canoes in use, however a third canoe was inside the Suquamish Museum that was on loan from the Kitsap Historical Society. The canoe had two large holes in the bottom.

According to a story published in the July edition of the Suquamish News, a man named Joe Waterhouse came to the museum with members of the Quileute tribe who claimed that the canoe belonged to their ancestors. They wanted to use the canoe for the “Paddle to Seattle,” the museum director, Charlie Sign and Suquamish Tribe Chairman, Leonard Forsman were conferring on the matter when Waterhouse reportedly said “Look, were taking the canoe.”

Sure enough, three canoes from Suquamish joined the hundreds on the water the next day, headed for Seattle.

The canoe journeys became a tradition for the tribes of the Coast Salish in 1993 when they next traveled to the tribal grounds of the Hei Itsuk tribe in British Columbia. This year’s journey ends on the grounds of the Lummi tribe in Bellingham.

On these journeys, tribes stop at the homes of other tribes along the way to rest, share a meal and take part in ceremonial celebrations. The ceremonies, or protocols, begin before the canoes even reach land, paddlers must ask permission from the hosting tribe to come ashore. Once ashore the tribes share meals, prayers, music and dances.

The Suquamish will be hosting paddlers for two nights of celebration before joining them on the remainder of the journey.