Suquamish is a village on Washington’s Kitsap Peninsula. It is the home of the Suquamish people, Native Americans who are a part of the regional Salish nation. Water, salmon and boating are central to their way of life. This tribe also runs the Clearwater Casino Resort.
It’s the time of year for Pow Wows, and recently, the Suquamish hosted their Chief Seattle Days at the Port Madison Indian Reservation, on Agate Passage, the ancestral home on Puget Sound.
The festivities included a fun run, boat races, a delicious salmon dinner and, of course, dancing.
The dances kicked off with the grand entry, then introductions of veterans and seniors.
A highlight was dances by visitors from Vancouver Island and Mexico.
The Canadians presented several animal dances, with drumming and singing, while the Mexican group presented traditional Aztec ceremonies, with elaborate, dazzling regalia.
I felt honored to witness all these ancient movements. I am happy that these cultures are being preserved and carried forward through the centuries.
The Pacific Northwest is blessed with rich indigenous cultures that have refused to die out and are continuing with renewed spirit and energy. It’s wonderful that they so generously share their traditions with the rest of us.
I was able to visit the grave of Chief Seattle, or Sealth in the native language, which is just up the road from the House of Awakened Culture, the site of the Pow Wow. The city was named for him.
The monument is accompanied by two painted wood panels depicting facets of the chief’s life. He lived from 1786-1866. The site has a circular concrete border, on which is engraved words in the Lushootseed language and also English. Many tributes are left at the base.
As I looked out from the beach in West Seattle, they appeared as specks on the horizon. But as they inched closer, if I looked hard enough, I could see their paddles undulating in unison. They made me think of Viking ships with dozens of long wooden oars pushing the boat through the sea.
They were coming! Suquamish, Makah, Swinomish, Jamestown S’Klallam, Squaxin, Cowichan, Quileute and many more tribal members participating in the annual canoe journey in the Northwest.
This year’s celebration, the Paddle to Nisqually, journeyed to the Nisqually Tribe’s lands near Olympia in July. But first, the paddlers converged at Alki Beach in West Seattle, to be welcomed by representatives of the Muckleshoot Tribe, on whose territory they had landed.
More than 70 canoes from Washington and Canada were making their way on a physical and spiritual journey. From Seattle, the canoes would travel over Puget Sound to the tribal lands of the Nisqually, hosts for this year’s cultural ceremony.
The annual event is held at a different location each year, and has a common goal of “providing a drug and alcohol free event and offering pullers a personal journey towards healing and recovery of culture, traditional knowledge and spirituality.”
In the past, canoes have even carried Native Hawaiians, Inuit and Maori to the tribal ceremony. It’s hard to imagine human beings paddling across an ocean. Of course, they have support boats accompanying them, and change paddlers to provide rest during the journey. But still!
As the canoes arrived at the beach, the paddlers pulled them ashore, temporarily. Then, as more participants arrived, they went back into the water and paddled around together. I understood that this was part of the tradition.
After a few dozen canoes had arrived, the crews assembled close to the beach, lining up the boats and sitting with their paddles held straight up. They waited to be welcomed ashore.
Each canoe asked permission from the Muckleshoot Tribe, hosts for this part of the journey. Women of the Muckleshoots then spoke to each canoe in turn, speaking in their language and beating a small drum.
As each canoe was welcomed, the paddlers pulled it ashore and carried it up onto the land for the night. Men, women and teens helped shoulder the load. The authentic dugout canoes looked pretty heavy!
The participants welcomed outsiders to witness their journey, admire their canoes and chat with them. I met a woman who came from Neah Bay, all the way at the western tip of the state. I had visited Neah Bay years ago, and recalled its beauty and wonderful smoked salmon!
I enjoyed checking out their canoes, many with native paintings and words. Some paddles also had native art, and many canoes flew flags of their tribes.
It was inspirational to see such a large group of people, coming together to celebrate and strengthen their cultures and community, and in many cases to restore their own well-being along the way.