Puyallup tribal dancers stand readyto make their entrance onto the floor. Photo by Angeline Totus.

After all the visiting canoes landed on the Tacoma waterfront on July 28, the 2018 Paddle to Puyallup canoe journey protocol continued throughout the week at Chief Leschi Schools, each day filled with good medicine – cultural sharing, dances, songs, stories, giving and receiving gifts, lots of traditional Native American foods – all doing its work to heal everyone who had the blessed opportunity to be there. Each day different tribes took the floor such that there was always something new and unique happening. It was an emotional sight to witness, as elders mixed with youth, families came together, ancestors were remembered fondly and so many members of different tribes intermingled and became good friends in this historic event.

The canoe journey protocol was scheduled to end on Saturday, Aug. 3 but it rolled into Sunday, Aug. 5 – the day that the Puyallup Tribe took the floor for a 10-hour presentation of Puyallup culture that included many songs and dances, good words and thanking and honoring all the Power Paddle to Puyallup volunteers. While Chairman Bill Sterud could not be there due to health issues, Councilwoman Sylvia Miller spoke on his behalf. “He hasn’t been able to be out here with us, so I’d like for all of you to give applause for Bill. He has been very helpful to all of this happening,” she said and applause erupted from every corner of the tent.

Each and every councilmember expressed deep gratitude to everyone who gave of their time and gifts to make the canoe journey work. It wouldn’t have happened without them, and their presence added so much to the medicine that there are not words enough to say to give back what they had given.

It was practically standing-room only for the Puyallups’ day under the big tent, which made the day all the more meaningful.

“I look across this sacred house to see the medicine that each of you have brought here – the medicine of your sacred canoes, the medicine of the sacred water, the medicine of your sacred songs and dances – honoring your elders, your youth, everyone who came to this sacred celebration today that the Puyallup Tribe has prepared,” Puyallup Culture Director and Canoe Family Captain Connie McCloud said.

Giving opening remarks, Puyallup Vice Chairman David Bean said, “I want to thank you all for being here through all the work that has been done, to witness all the medicine that has been shared, all the stories about how this was taken away from us – how the songs and language were taken away – our ways of practicing our culture were taken away. One of our elders who left us four years ago, Billy Frank Jr., always told us, ‘Tell your story.’ We have the responsibility to tell our story of our medicine and our traditional ways.”

A few special guests were then introduced – U.S. Congressman Derek Kilmer and State Representatives Denny Heck and David Sawyer.

“I’m honored to be here and represent this community at the U.S. House of Representatives,” Denny Heck said. “I am grateful for all of this week’s activity because the truth is, when you celebrate your heritage, we are all better for it and I thank you for that.”

Rep. Kilmer, who represents 11 tribes in his 6th Congressional District, read from a statement he prepared to read into the Congressional Record this week. It reads, in part: “Mr. Speaker, I rise to recognize the Puyallup Tribe and all participants in the 2018 Canoe Journey. Tribes from Alaska all the way to Willapa Bay have participated in this powerful cultural event. Over the last few weeks, thousands of people from dozens of tribes put their canoes in the water and connected with one another…a celebration of heritage, sharing songs and stories, dances and gifts. But beyond that they celebrated the theme of ‘Honoring Our Medicine’…to honor the medicine of the Salish Sea and the waters that have been the lifeblood of past generations and will be the lifeblood of our future as long as we rise to their challenge. …The tribes that participated in the paddle and Native American leaders throughout our region have shown more commitment, more leadership, more drive, more partnership and more passion for recovering this vital body of water than any others. They have seen our waters as sacred – as givers of life… Mr. Speaker, today I want to express my gratitude to the Puyallup Tribe for hosting this important event and for all that they have done to strengthen our region for so long…”

Councilwoman Miller told the crowd to give itself applause for participating. “I look at these children and elders out here dancing and it brings tears to my eyes to see that we can all come together like this an enjoy ourselves,” she said. “This is something that has been coming to us for a long time. For many, many years we have worked to bring these traditions back.”

For Councilman Tim Reynon, canoe journey meant something very special to him in his own personal life, which he shared with the audience. “I stand here today before you as one of those children that was removed from the reservation as a child before the Indian Child Welfare Act. We didn’t grow up

with the canoes, in this canoe culture, so this week was the first time in my life that I’ve spent the entire week here witnessing what was happening on the floor. I have been truly uplifted and strengthened by your medicine.”

Throughout the day, songs and dances were interspersed with giving thanks to security personnel and all volunteers, the kitchen staff and grill staff, the traditional healers who worked with so many individuals throughout the week…everyone. The cooks and kitchen staff got a hearty round of applause for all the delicious and traditionally healthy foods they cooked – breakfast and dinner every day – in addition to setting up dining areas and taking them down, making sure everyone had enough to eat and paying special attention to the elders to make sure all their needs were met at mealtimes and afterward.

In a touching tribute, staff from the Community Domestic Violence Advocacy Program (CDVAP) took the floor to address the missing and murdered indigenous men and woman that all tribes suffer in grief for. Throughout the week, there was an open invitation for anyone who wished to write the name of their missing/murdered loved one a mini-paddle to be hung on a quilt with the others. By canoe journey’s end, nearly 200 paddles hung on the quilt, and their names were read aloud on that final Sunday as their family members stood by and the quilt was displayed for all to witness.

Canoe Committee Chairman Chester Earl spoke lovingly to the crowd in appreciation and humility. “We have poured our hearts out and we love you. We have given you our best,” he said. “We have heard many testimonies of the healing that has taken place the last three and a half weeks. Thank you to our Tribal Council, to all our elders, to the Culture Department and Connie McCloud, and thank you to the Puyallup Tribe’s Canoe Committee. I want to thank my wife, my children, my grandbaby. They have sacrificed a lot during the planning and preparation to bring this all together. Thank you.”

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