This summer, local residents will have a chance to gather with thousands of people to witness the strength and beauty of more than 100 coastal canoes landing, by invitation of Lummi Nation, near the Stommish grounds and Portage Island.
The “Paddle to Lummi” tribal canoe journey or Sqweshenet Tse Schelangen/Honoring Our Way of Life is slated for July 24 through 28. The traditional canoe gathering honors the unique relationship that tribes up and down the west coast have with the land, water and each other.
The Tribal Canoe Journey is a revival of the traditional method of transportation and is a culturally significant experience for participants. Each year since 1989, different Native Nations have hosted canoe pullers, support crews and other visitors from Alaska, British Columbia and Washington. Upon arrival, visiting canoe families ask permission to land, often in their Native languages.
“The Lummi people are honored to welcome all our relations traveling the traditional highways of our ancestors to participate in this year’s journey,” said Jeremiah Julius, Tribal Chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council. “Together we will celebrate, honor and share the unique cultural heritage of the Coast Salish people.”
Julius said they expect approximately 10,000 people and over 100 canoe families on their ancestral shores – something he says will help build strong bridges with neighboring communities.
“Over the years we have witnessed the discipline the canoe journey has taught our younger generations,” Julius said. “Honoring our way of life in sharing who we are and where we come from.”
Rebecca Kinley, Special Projects Coordinator for Lummi Nation, said the intertribal canoe journey is more than just an event celebrating Indigenous cultures but a movement that allows people to reconnect with a way of life.
“Often times, we get so busy trying to fulfill a framework – a way of life that isn’t ours – that we often get sidetracked about what our culture and ideals are in terms of healing and how we continue moving forward and doing our work,” Kinley said. “As tribal people, we live off the land and the water and often times we go to work and that work system just doesn’t really compliment us at all. So it reminds us who we are, what we stand for and what we believe in and we find a lot of healing from all the adversity and grief that we see.”
Kinley said a traveling canoe (be careful not to call it a boat!) can be anywhere from 15- to 40-feet long and hold anywhere from eight to 28 people. Each canoe family can have anywhere from 20 up to 120 canoes, plus safety and support boats.
“Even the smaller tribal communities that have four or five canoe families will have pullers plus additional family, plus support boat crew and those numbers can add up significantly,” Kinley said.
As the canoe families begin arriving on July 24 – some traveling more than 100 miles to attend – the entire community will welcome each canoe family and help them come ashore.
“It’s definitely not just one person that can lift up a 1,000-pound canoe,” Kinley said. “It’s an entire community helping ensure they get to our shore safely.”
The event will culminate with traditional potlatch song, dance, gift-giving, singing, dancing and testimonies of the journey that organizers say have provided their people with hope, healing and happiness preserving their way of life.
“It’s kind of capturing those moments on why it’s important to stand together as tribal communities and continue to pray and receive those blessings,” Kinley said.