Historical tribal canoe journey starts Sunday

From these canoes carved from cedar trees they fished, hunted whales, moved cargo, explored in times of peace and fought in times of war.

Now they join to celebrate the tradition of their ancestors.

July 19 marks the beginning of the 2009 Tribal Canoe Journey, bringing together as many as 100 canoes from as many as 90 native tribes from the United States and Canadian First Nations, an estimated 12,000 people in canoes and in support.

The journey culminates on Suquamish tribal land Aug. 3-8, when tribal members engage in protocol, singing and dancing, sharing stories and exchanging gifts, beginning with tribes who traveled from the farthest points.

Canoe paddlers start from Chenahkint on the west end of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, making a 17-day journey to Suquamish as four other groups of paddlers from the Pacific coast, Hood Canal, San Juan Islands and British Columbia's Inside Passage do the same.

Paddlers from Canada and Washington's west coast will make a two-day stop at the Elwha Klallam tribe land July 29-30 that will include native craftspeople and artisans, at Jamestown S'Klallam land on July 31, at Port Townsend on Aug. 1 (hosted by the three S'Klallam bands - Lower Elwha, Jamestown and Port Gamble) and in Port Gamble on Aug. 2 before finishing the journey in Suquamish.

The journey also marks the 20th anniversary of the first nine-canoe exposition that in Suquamish started as the Paddle to Seattle.

This is the first year paddlers younger than 18 years old are allowed on the journey, said Betty Oppenheimer, Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe publications specialist.

She said Jamestown is sending two canoes and about 22 paddlers on the journey, the youngest a 13-year-old.

The tribe is dedicating this year's journey to Pete Holden, a 34-year veteran of the Sequim School District and tribal member who died in February.

To prepare for water travel, Jamestown paddlers have been practicing by paddling - and getting dumped - into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Sherry Macgregor, a 2009 puller for a Jamestown S'Klallam canoe, recalls a cold water training run in late June.

"We rocked the canoe and over we went into the water," Macgregor wrote in her blog.

"It all happened very quickly. Then everyone started swimming toward the canoe. The three in first baled out most of the water.

"Of course, what I envisioned as being the biggest hurdle was - that of getting back into the canoe. But when each person's turn came, there were plenty of people to push, pull or yank, and we were all back in the canoe within the allotted 10 minutes.

"I doubt if anyone, including myself, wants to go through the 'cold water training' again but it did feel like a real accomplishment and we were quite merry afterwards."

Next year's canoe journey will culminate on the Makah Nation in Neah Bay.

Reach Michael Dashiell at

Journey on the Web

See schedules, blogs, volunteer opportunities, photos and more of the 2009 Tribal Canoe Journey online at:

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