Paddle To Seattle

Celebrating the survival of a people
and the endurance of their spirituality

One of the articles in The Ecology Of Media (IC#23)
Originally published in Fall 1989 on page 9
Copyright (c)1989, 1997 by Context Institute

The "Paddle to Seattle," which saw traditional canoes paddled by Indians from several Northwest tribes converge on Puget Sound in July of 1989, reawakened old traditions and brought renewed attention to the Indians and their unique relationship to the Earth. Some canoes carried up to 40 people to the beach at Seattle’s Alki Point, where a ceremony was held to welcome the paddlers. Elaine Streitberger, Potawatomie Prairie Band, wrote us about the event in our last issue (see "Feedback," IC #22), and we asked her to make this report. She enlisted the help of Pauline Rose (Cowichan Tribe), who interviewed the participants, and Bob Charlo (Kalispel Nation), who took the photo.

Johnny Moses, a Tulalip/Nootka Indian, welcomed the canoes with singing. He was here, he said, because "our ancestors were here thousands of years ago." He wanted to celebrate the life force, and the right of Indians to be themselves. He felt that Indians could not survive without the group and that working together was the Indian way, because one person alone cannot make a canoe go. He prayed for the paddlers, and he was thankful that the people were uniting in the effort.

Orchestrated by the Washington State Centennial Commission’s Native Canoe Project, the Paddle to Seattle resurrected the Indians’ canoe carving tradition. For some, the trip to Puget Sound was a 170-mile journey from La Push (on Washington’s Pacific coast), while others took shorter inland routes from their tribal homes. Indians also stressed the importance of discipline, strength, and cooperation in both carving and paddling the canoes. But for all the native people involved – who represented 15 tribes from as far away as British Columbia and New Zealand – the Paddle to Seattle was a celebration of their survival as a people, their ties to one another, their connection to the land and water, and the endurance of their spirituality.

Al Miller (Puyallup/Duamish tribes) felt pride in "hanging on to our culture, learning to dance, bringing back the old ways. Indians did not die. We are here in force." His people were – and are – fishermen, and the trip took them via their traditional fishing route. The elders in his tribe carved his headdress and made his full traditional dress. He will be going to Japan to perform the songs and dances of his tribe next March.

Eva Jerry, a 75-year-old elder of the Muckleshoot tribe, teaches the Indian language to school children. She had taken her class to watch the canoe being carved, and she was glad that God gave her the opportunity to visit with the elders from other tribes. "It brings me back to the happiness and joy we felt at gatherings in the old days," she said. And Vi Hilbert, (Upper Skagit Tribe elder) noted, "Our people know they can practice the tradition . . . [but] we needed a chance to be reminded."

New bonds formed between tribes and old bonds reaffirmed. The Bella Bella canoers challenged the Quileute tribe to a race in four years; and New Zealand’s Ngati Kahurangi Tribe invited the Suquamish Tribe to a canoe pageant in their country next year.

Robert Hall-Heiltsuk (Bella-Bella tribe) emphasized the importance of being close to and taking care of mother earth: the air, the earth, water, and the sun. "The Spirit of God is present," he said. "He is taking care of us as we travel down the coast."

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