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Tribes welcome canoe journey to Whatcom County

Watch canoe families arrive in Birch Bay during Paddle to Nisqually

Members of the Haudenosaunee and Heiltsuk tribes arrive at Birch Bay State Park during the Paddle to Nisqually Canoe Journey on Tuesday, July 19, 2017. The Nooksack and Chilliwack tribes hosted them.
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Members of the Haudenosaunee and Heiltsuk tribes arrive at Birch Bay State Park during the Paddle to Nisqually Canoe Journey on Tuesday, July 19, 2017. The Nooksack and Chilliwack tribes hosted them.

In keeping with a tradition that goes back thousands of years, the Nooksack tribe welcomed some visitors Tuesday, July 19, who were making a long journey to south Puget Sound – by dugout canoes.

Northwest tribes from Alaska, Canada and Washington state are traveling the saltwater highway to the Nisqually Indian Reservation, stopping at coastal tribal communities along the way, in what’s being called the Paddle to Nisqually. Some paddlers began July 13 at the Ahousaht First Nation community, about 11 miles north of Tofino, B.C., on the western coast of Vancouver Island; others started July 15 on the Quinault Reservation and are working their way up the Washington coast, down the Strait of Juan de Fuca and into Puget Sound.

On Tuesday, the paddlers arrived at Birch Bay State Park for a welcoming and dinner. A similar event is planned at the Lummi Stommish Grounds on Wednesday evening. Several of Nisqually’s canoe family members drove north from Olympia to join the last part of the journey, which will include stops hosted by the Muckleshoot and Puyallup tribes.

“It’s all about healing and prayers when you’re out there on the canoe and you’re pulling,” said Kahelelani Kalama of Yelm, who has participated in several canoe journeys, in an interview with The Olympian. “And it gets tough, but all you’ve got to do is keep praying because our ancestors traveled that way a long time ago, and we can do it. … They didn’t have support boats like we do.”

Eventually, more than 100 tribal canoes are scheduled to arrive at the tip of the Port of Olympia peninsula on July 30. That event will be followed by a traditional celebration on the reservation from Aug. 1-6. Most often referred to by participants as “protocol” (and sometimes called a potlatch), the event will include drumming, dancing, feasting, gift-giving and other cultural sharing. The canoe landing and protocol celebration are open to the public, but there may be times when cameras and video devices aren’t allowed.

Lisa Pemberton of The Olympian contributed to this story.

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