Standing on the shores of the Suquamish, where tribal participants paddled to Squaxin Island for the 24th annual Canoe Journey, July 29 through August 5, Suquamish elder and Clearwater storyteller Richard Demain shared how the tradition connects him to his ancestors.
In this Longhouse Media video, Demain recalled a special moment he felt in 2009 while watching a family of canoes. “I was standing on the dock taking pictures of the canoes coming in, and there was one family of four or five canoes rafted together. They all stood up are started hitting their paddles on their canoes and singing. At that moment, something happened, it touched my heart. I felt like my ancestors with me that day; they were looking down and thanking us for carrying on the traditions of our people.”
From various points, canoes departed over the weekend and Monday, heading toward the final destination: the territory of the Squaxin Island Tribe. The Canoe Journey is held each summer to celebrate the revival of traditional travel on the ancestral highways of the coastal Pacific Northwest. Every year, pullers in more than 100 canoes travel from their territories to a host nation, with stops at indigenous territories along the way, for cultural celebration and sharing. Indigenous languages are spoken on the journey, particularly at the canoe landings when skippers ask hosts for permission for pullers to come ashore, and at evening ceremonies when dances and songs are shared.
The Squaxin Island Tribe has chosen “Teachings of Our Ancestors” as the theme of the 2012 Canoe Journey. Ancestral teachings “are the center of our lives and cultures,” Squaxin Island Museum executive director Charlene Krise said. “It is our ancestors that teach us that we must care for our elders, each other, our children and the earth because each is a part of our past, present and future.”
The Squaxin Island Tribe will welcome more than 100 canoes to its shores on July 29, followed by a week of potlatch ceremonies and festivities, with daily performances by dancers, singers and storytellers from visiting indigenous nations. The ceremonies and festivities are open to the public.