Canoe journey memories blend with anticipation for Honoring Our Medicine 2018

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Photo courtesy of Angeline Totus

By Matt Nagle
matt@tacomaweekly.com

Freshly back from the 2017 Canoe Journey to Campbell River, British Columbia, the Puyallup Canoe Family and others in the tribal community are getting right to work to plan the 2018 Honoring Our Medicine Canoe Journey that the Puyallup Tribe will host next summer. There is a lot to do in a relatively short period of time and pulling off such a massive event will take “all hands on deck” where the Puyallup community is concerned. But the whole effort has been blessed from the start and this was evidenced beautifully at Campbell River when the Puyallup Tribe was gifted as keepers of a very special Talking Stick that the Tribe will hold as hosts of next year’s Honoring Our Medicine then present to whichever Tribe steps forward to host Canoe Journey in 2019.

Passed to the Puyallups from the We Wai Kai Nation and Wei Wai Kum Nation at Campbell River to close their hosting of the 2017 journey, the Talking Stick was presented in a joyful ceremony at closing protocol. The Stick was not simply walked over and handed to the Puyallup representatives; it was danced to them in a ceremony that those who were there to experience it will never forget. While the Talking Stick could have been passed on in an informal way, this time it was given to the Puyallups in a way that honored the Talking Sticks’ unique energy that touched every person in the room deep into their heart and soul.

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Photo courtesy of Angeline Totus

“There was this huge – I don’t even know how to describe it – an emotion, huge energy of all the people coming to dance on the floor,” said Puyallup Canoe Family Captain Connie McCloud. “For us it was such a heartfelt, open invitation.”

Chairman of the Puyallup Tribal Canoe Committee Chester Earl said he was filled with such joy that he felt as if he were floating off the ground as the Stick was danced into his hands.

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Photo courtesy of Angeline Totus

“You could see Campbell River finishing 2017 and as (the Stick) was danced toward us, I was thinking, ‘Here comes 2018.’ People were elated – you could feel it in the atmosphere.”

Puyallup Tribal Councilmember Annette Bryan was there on behalf of Tribal Council to accept the invitation for the Puyallups to host Canoe Journey next year.

“They handed it over with genuine love,” she said. “It’s hard to describe all the love and happiness that we all felt because we were all together, unified, the drums were going and everybody was dancing together. What I’m very excited about is that Talking Stick that goes from tribe to tribe is full of all the prayers and songs, ceremonies, dances and good, strong, powerful healing medicine. That is coming to our community at a time when we really need it. We have that medicine here at the Puyallup Tribe and it’s full of purpose. This is our time and that healing is going to come to our community.”

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The smiles on these faces (with Councilmember Annette Bryan in front, center) tells the story of Puyallup tribal members’ experience at Campbell River and the excitement building for Honoring Our Medicine 2018. Photo by Mark Gauti

Bryan said that the respect and admiration everyone had at Campbell River for Connie McCloud was a joy to witness. “They’ve known her and built a relationship with her over the past 20 years and that was evident in the way they conveyed their love toward the Puyallup Tribe and Canoe Family. It was an amazing ceremony to witness and my heart is truly full!”

She added, “I believe we are about to experience some beautiful transformations in our Tribe. We will have to ‘pull’ together to make it happen, and it will take a concentrated effort, but I have every confidence that our Puyallup people are ready to put our paddles in and pull together. I’m extremely proud of our Canoe Family for all the work they did to make pull this year’s journey off.”

Another magical moment occurred when blankets the Puyallup travelers had ordered for gifting each of the canoes didn’t show up in time for Campbell River. While this could have been a problem, McCloud had a brainstorm inspired by ancestral tradition – offering cedar sticks marked with “Honoring Our Medicine” in Lushootseed as invitations to next summer’s Canoe Journey that can be exchanged for the blankets once the canoe travelers arrive on the Puyallup Reservation next summer.

“We called up each of the canoes and offered them a stick as an invitation so when they come here next summer they’ll receive their blanket,” McCloud explained. “It evolved into what it should have been.”

She told of the traditional ways and how they are as vital today as they were long, long ago. “Traditionally, if you were going to host a potlatch, you would send a runner with cedar sticks to villages and give them to the head people as an invitation to the potlatch. They would take 15 sticks and say, ‘15 members of my family will be there.’ Then the runner would go to the next village and offer the same thing so that when the runner finally came home the host would know how many people were coming and how many from each village.”

Chester Earl said that people were literally lining up for their cedar stick invitation. “It was really, really awesome. That set in motion the cultural aspect of what we’re doing. We want to get as close as we can to the original reasons why tribal journeys were re-started and that was traveling the way our ancestors traveled,” he said. “We need to get back to our simpler ways and we have the opportunity to do it.”

HONORING OUR MEDICINE 2018 – A 20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

Interestingly, 20 years ago the Puyallups presented cedar as an invitation to the very special 1998 canoe journey that brought tribal journeys back to the Puyallup Tribe.

As Earl tells it, he, McCloud and Raymond McCloud were at the La Push host camp in 1997 and decided that it was time for the Puyallups to host the next year. “I was the skipper of the Canoe at the time,” Earl said. “We went to our canoes and gathered up all the paddles. We went to protocol and when it was our turn to take the floor, we gave everyone a paddle and invited them to come to Puyallup that next year. We used the cedar, the medicine – honoring our medicine.”

Now fast-forward two decades later and a full circle will be completed with Honoring Our Medicine 2018. Earl said that the Puyallup tribal community can expect upward of 100 canoes to arrive here next summer.

“We had 22 canoes in 1998 and we’re going to have 100-plus canoes in 2018. It’s going to be huge and it’s going to be awesome.”

The planning committee is now meeting three times a month to get things in place. These meetings are open to the entire Puyallup tribal community. Lots of help is needed including volunteers to come out to culture night to make giveaway items, to drum and dance to learn the dances and songs for protocol and much more.

“It would be very nice to have families get involved early,” Earl said. “This is a Puyallup tribal community event and we want the membership involved. We want the whole community to have the healing that the power of canoe journeys bring. Coming together and being together is healing.”

McCloud emphasized that community wellness and healing form the basis of Honoring Our Medicine just as the Puyallup Canoe Family has embraced this same message from the beginning.

“Our responsibility will be to feed the people and take care of them,” she said of the guests arriving at the Puyallup reservation next summer. “We’re going to invite our community to be a part of it and that’s a big job so one of our first responsibilities is we have to be well. In order to take care of our community we have to take care of ourselves and each other.”

McCloud said that as Canoe Family Captain, she has always made sure that canoe journeys are part of an overall drug and alcohol prevention program and she looked to the sacred cedar tree to explain.

“Every piece of the cedar tree is used, from carving a canoe, to utensils, to basket weaving and clothing…nothing is wasted. Every part has a responsibility. That’s what we want to use for bringing together our community, and particularly the community healing –  to find a way for our people to belong and be part of participating in helping to get ready and the planning.”

In order to have more room to plan Honoring Our Medicine 2018, and to have more working room in general, the Tribe’s Culture Program will be moving from the Little Wild Wolves Youth and Community Center to the new dairy farm property at 72nd and Waller Road. Camping for Honoring Our Medicine will be there and activities including protocol and meals will happen at Chief Leschi Schools. Shuttles will take people back and forth.

“One thing we learned at Campbell River is that we have to give back to the roots of tribal journeys,” Earl said. “I hear this a lot – to go back to the reason we started and that is to honor our medicine. That consists of taking care of our elders, being respectful to one another, taking care of our children, passing on the teachings and receiving the teachings. We want to do this in a way our ancestors did it.”

Councilmember Bryan agreed. “The message we want to share is love, peace, understanding and acceptance,” she said, quoting from a song by Puyallup elder Billie Barnes.

To get involved with planning Honoring Our Medicine 2018, contact Connie McCloud at connie.mccloud@puyalluptribe.com; or Chester Earl at chester.earl@puyalluptribe.com.

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