It was a perfect Northwest summer afternoon on Saturday, July 28, as hundreds of people gathered at the former Ole and Charlie’s Marina in anticipation of canoes arriving for the 2018 Power Paddle to Puyallup. Coming by the busload from the shuttle point at the Puyallup Tribe’s riverboat casino on Alexander Avenue, people of all ages, colors, creeds and ancestry witnessed this historic event that was a year in the planning – and two decades in the making. It had been 20 years since the Puyallup people hosted this canoe journey, and by all accounts it was a day no one will soon forget.
While the actual arrival of canoes wasn’t scheduled to begin until 11 a.m., observers began filing in as early at 8 a.m. to mingle and find their own perfect vantage point. Looking out over the crowds, the variety of native handmade cedar hats illustrated what a golden opportunity this was for members of many tribes to come together for a day full of spiritual goodwill, pride in being native – and just plain excitement. The canoe journey theme, “Honoring Our Medicine,” was given life in this way, just one of many ways that healing took place through the power of the canoes and the life-giving waters that carried them to the Puyallup reservation.
The landing site itself was something to be celebrated. For more than 100 years this area at the mouth of the Hylebos Waterway was kept from the Puyallup Nation until the Tribe reclaimed it earlier this summer and renamed it “dxʷłalilali” in the Tribe’s indigenous language Lushootseed – “a place where to come to shore.” In the recent past, canoes visiting the Tribe were greeted at Owen Beach in Point Defiance Park, but on this blessed Saturday there were no disinterested tourists milling about having no idea of the cultural and spiritual significance of what they were in the midst of. On this day at dxʷłalilali, it was all one big tribal family whether you were native or not. Such is the inclusiveness fostered by the Puyallup Tribe whose very name means “generous and welcoming to all who enter our lands.”
Up to 120 canoes were greeted on that day, carrying dignitaries and families from more than 100 tribes from Alaska, California, Washington, Oregon, New York, British Columbia, and as far as New Zealand. This kicked off a full week of cultural sharing and traditional songs and dances at Chief Leschi Schools.
The festivities continue until Saturday, Aug. 4, when the host Puyallup Tribe will take the floor to cap off the canoe journey protocol. The general public is welcome to come and take part, and admission is free. While there is no parking allowed at the school, the Tribe has set up shuttle service from the Gold Lot at the Washington State Fairgrounds starting at 8 a.m. each day (visit http://www.paddletopuyallup.org for more on this). The shuttle service is very quick and easy, with many air-conditioned school busses carrying about 50 riders at a time so that the wait is minimal.
WELCOME TO THE PUYALLUP RESERVATION
The day of canoe arrivals attracted participation from local political leaders who came to express their gratitude to the full Puyallup Tribal Council and the Puyallup membership.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, Washington State Rep. Laurie Jinkins, Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards and Fife Mayor Kim Roscoe, among others, all were there and spoke briefly. Members of Tacoma and Fife city councils were also in attendance. From the county, Pierce County Councilmember Rick Talbert was there, Tribal Relations Manager Sarah Colleen Sotomish from Dammeier’s office, and Director of Constituent Services Nima Sarrafan.
When it was time to start the welcoming ceremony, Puyallup Canoe Family Captain and Culture Director Connie McCloud gave the opening prayer.
“We had a beautiful full moon the last few nights – our Mother Moon is taking care of us because she controls the tides to allow safe passage for all our canoes to travel here,” she said.
Puyallup Tribal Chairman Bill Sterud then spoke, and he too remarked over the beauty that surrounds all of us who call the Pacific Northwest home.
“Last night I was here at sunset. There was our mountain. There was the moon. And there was a bald eagle – all coming to welcome us and give us good medicine.” To the canoe pullers and land travelers to the reservation he said, “I want to thank each and every one of you – the miles you’ve gone to be part of this so that we’re all together. This is a good place for all of us. Thank you for coming to us.”
Vice Chairman David Bean expressed gratitude as well. “We look forward to making new memories with each and every one of you,” he said to the crowd. “We are so excited to have you here today to share this medicine with each other. Our ancestors and elders have prepared us for this day – this moment – to come together as our ancestors have done for thousands of years.”
Puyallup Tribal Councilmembers Sylvia Miller and James Rideout thanked ancestors who laid the foundation for the 2018 canoe journey to even happen in the first place.
“You are on the land of (Chief) Leschi and leaders who went before us. If it weren’t for Leschi and those leaders, we wouldn’t be here today,” Rideout said. “I’m grateful to have a place that we can call home. This is our home. I appreciate all of our leadership that got us up to this point so that we can have a way of life in our way.”
“Our people have traveled these waters for many, many years and I know that our ancestors are very proud of us to keep that tradition going,” Miller said. “I welcome all of you and we love you all.”
Puyallup Councilwoman Annette Bryan said, “Our ancestors are with us today. You can feel the power and the energy….good and positive medicine. We are strong, we are resilient and we are proud Puyallup tribal people. It is such an honor to stand here on our beach with our sacred water that comes from our sacred mountain and watch our traditional canoes come in on our traditional lands.”
Councilwoman Anna Bean picked up on Bryan’s expression of pride and strength. “Over time our language, our traditions, our culture were taken from us but today we say we take it back. We are still here. This is for us – all of you – every single person here matters and you are where you are supposed to be right now. Welcome to you all.”
Sen. Cantwell’s remarks took on a more national view of Indian Country, as senior member and former chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and a staunch environmental advocate.
“We are so proud of the government-to-government relationship and the unbelievable men and women from Indian Country that have served the United States protecting and defending us,” she said. “Thank you to all the paddlers who have worked years to get to this point so we can all share in what you already know – how important these waters are to all of us.”
When Mayor Woodards spoke, she addressed the past divisions between the city and the tribe, something she is committed to mending as mayor. As she spoke, members of the Tacoma City Council presented a handmade glass orb to each Tribal Council member “as a symbol of our appreciation and our intention to grow our relationship between your nation and our city…,” Woodards said, bringing to mind the perfect metaphor of our city’s famed Bridge of Glass. “We understand that the canoe journey teaches young people the skills and traditions of your people. In recognition of that, these gifts have been made by our young people in Tacoma who are learning a craft of our city identity. May these serve as a reminder that what has once been broken may be fused together again to make something even more beautiful, and that’s how we view our relationship.”
Then it was time to welcome the canoes ashore. One by one they pulled up, with one designated puller asking for permission to come ashore in keeping with traditional protocol. Teams of Army servicemembers and volunteers from International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) Local #23 hoisted each canoe up and carried it to shore, while the pullers, tired from their long journey, went to Chief Leschi School for dinner and an evening of relaxation and fellowship.