Native people along the Northwest Coast and Salish Sea used marine highways for thousands of years. In their hand-carved canoes they paddled both rivers and sea. They used trails through the thick cedar and fir forests (some of our local roads today are laid atop these very trails), but they had no horses. Canoes were faster than feet!
In 1989 Northwest tribes attempted to revive the old culture around this traditional travel during Paddle to Seattle. Nine canoes traveled from Suquamish to Seattle in 1989, but many of them began their journey at LaPush. I have friends who remember being at LaPush that first summer as the canoes began their voyage. After the canoes were launched and began to move out into the water heading north (to enter the Salish Sea and then travel south), people walked and then ran along the beach to keep them in sight as long as possible. None of my friends realized that day what this one canoe journey would become over the following years.
The now annual Canoe Journey has done much more than revive canoe travel. It is reviving traditional languages, songs, dances, carving arts, and an increased concern with spiritual and physical fitness. I think it’s easy to romanticize these journeys, but they take a tremendous amount of work, preparation, and coordination. It has also become a meeting and sharing of cultures as non-Natives help hosting tribes with food preparation and other logistics.
Editor Richard Walker of the North Kitsap Herald recently described the event as “arguably the largest cultural event in the Pacific Northwest.” I remember reading a news story about it in The New York Times in a July, 2011 issue.
A different tribe hosts each year’s final destination. This year about 100 canoes from tribes throughout the Pacific Northwest are traveling right now to Squaxin, near Olympia, Washington, arriving there July 29. They will stop for visits at more than 70 communities along the way. Some will be traveling as far as 680 miles.
You can see a map as well as a terrific photo show at www.paddletosquaxin2012.org. Be sure to click on the map to enlarge it. You can also see estimated times of arrival at the various stops along the way.