The first people to arrive in Taholah, Washington during the 2013 Canoe Journey/Paddle to Quinault didn’t arrive by water, but by land.
A group of Skokomish Tribal citizens hiked an ancestral mountain trail from their homeland to the coast, covering 55 miles—as the eagle flies—in four days during July.
It had been about 100 years since the Skokomish had used the trail, so this latest trek has significant cultural impacts. The Skokomish awakened an important land route between their homeland and the coast and, according to Skokomish spiritual leader Delbert Miller, are reclaiming ceremonial and sacred sites.
“We’re restoring a cultural tradition,” Skokomish Chairman Charles “Guy” Miller said. “It’s something we’re going to do again and again to honor our ancestors that made these routes for us to use and maintain, and to foster our relationship with our Quinault relatives and friends, as well as to stimulate our spiritual well-being.”
Hiking the trail in the southern flank of the Olympic Mountains was no easy task. For four days, 20 Skokomish people—ages 7 to 64—ascended and descended 3,600 feet, climbed over and under fallen trees, crossed washed-out gullies, forded a river, and navigated trails a couple of feet wide along sheer cliffs.
But the hike was a spiritual experience. One of the hikers “said she found church in those hills,” said Terri Twiddy-Butler, a Skokomish council member who participated in the hike. “I don’t think a day went by that we weren’t thinking about our ancestors, and that they weren’t thinking about us.”
Delbert Miller and Eddie Green, a Skokomish canoe carver and skipper who first raised the idea of the trek, said that, historically, runners used the trail to carry information between Skokomish and Quinault. Along the trail are ancestral hunting areas; sites where ceremonies were held to celebrate marriages and the bestowing of names, and areas where the ancestors went on quests from which they might return with a spiritual gift, or “power.”
On this latest journey, the hikers experienced what their ancestors had experienced. They ate berries along the trail and drank water from streams. They found the places elders talked about—silikiwet, the valley where gatherings took place; and d3xwsiqw, the headwaters of the Skokomish River. A song was returned to the people. “We weren’t alone out there,” Delbert Miller said.
The land journey and the Canoe Journey were similar in many ways. Both required emotional, physical and spiritual fitness. And both carried life lessons—whether on ancestral trail or ancestral waters, everyone has to do his or her part. You have to take good care of yourself, be patient and lift others up when they are weary.
And, like the Canoe Journey, the experience has led to an awakening among the Skokomish people. A lot of people have said they want to experience the overland and river routes traveled by the ancestors, and Delbert Miller said a short journey is being planned with the Elwha Klallam Tribe.
His recommendation to those who want to participate: Exercise, practice, “toughen your feet up,” and pray.
“The trail is important,” Twiddy-Butler said. “It’s easy to forget where our ancestors gathered and hunted. When we get back on the trail, we experience what it was like for the ancestors.”
Chairman Miller said the Skokomish-to-Quinault trail awakening is the first of many to come.
“There are other trails that we will re-awaken,” he said. “One is the Vance Creek trail that led to the Satsop River, the Chehalis River, and to the Columbia River to trade with the Yakamas.” He said ancestors stored canoes at the Satsop for use on the river, or borrowed canoes from neighbors there.
“Another is the South Fork trail that follows the Skokomish River to its headwaters where we hunted elk and met the Quinault people. We also would go up the Dosewallips River to the headwaters to hunt elk, where we also would meet up with the Quinaults, and sometimes encounter the Klallams via the Elwha River headwaters,” the chairman said. “There is also a trail overland from Hood Canal to Mason Lake and Allyn at North Bay where we met the Squaxin people.”