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2011 Inter-Island Tribal Canoe Journey: voyage of spirit, rejuvenation
(Editor's note: Among the events planned as part of the Lummi Nation's July 22 stop-over in Friday Harbor is a community dessert potluck, which begins at 8 p.m. at the county fairgrounds, and will be followed by an evening of tribal drumming and songs. If you plan to attend, bring a dessert to share).
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James Hillaire recalls standing beside the late Chester Cayou, Sr., as the Lummi elder led the traditional “welcoming of canoes” ceremony as paddlers arrived at various stop-over spots along the annual Inter-Tribal Canoe Journey, like Friday Harbor.
Now, the torch has been passed to Hillaire, cultural director of the Lummi nation, who will lead the ceremony in which the paddlers ask for permission to come ashore and are welcomed by those they’ve come to meet, to reconnect with and to celebrate with.
“It’s nice to come to the islands just to let people know this is and was our traditional homeland,” Hillaire said. “We still like to keep that tie.”
As many as 100 tribal canoes, from as far away as Bella Coola to the north and Nisqually to the south, are expected to converge at the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community as part of the Coast Salish Inter-Tribal Canoe Journey, on July 25, the journey’s final destination.
Canoes and paddlers from the Lummi Nation will stop-over in Friday Harbor en route to Swinomish on July 22. The welcoming ceremony will take place at the Port of Friday Harbor’s Breakwater A, at about 2 p.m.
The paddlers will stay overnight at the county fairgrounds and local civic groups, non-profits and supporters, led by Friends of the San Juans, have banded together to lay out a welcoming mat in Friday Harbor of their own.
There will be a community dessert and potluck beginning at 8 p.m., at the fairgrounds, followed by an evening of tribal drumming and songs.
Hillaire said the canoe journey and the stop-over in Friday Harbor carry great significance for both the paddlers and the Lummi people. It becomes a journey of rejuvenation and a way to connect the past and the present.
“It means a lot to us,” he said. “Along the way we share stories, share our losses and remember those who are no longer with us anymore.”
The Lummi people believe San Juan Island to be their place of origin. The Point Elliot Treaty of 1855 created the Lummi reservation near Bellingham, but the Lummi and other original inhabitants of the island were forced to move beginning in 1872, when the territorial dispute between the United States and Britain was settled and ownership was given to the U.S. by an arbitration panel.
Still, the Lummi Nation maintains cultural, historical and natural resources in the islands.
Commissioner Barbara Marrett believes that the port’s embrace and the island’s involvement in the canoe journey is “win-win” for the community and for the paddlers, many of whom are teenagers.
“It’s so important for people to know that they’re ancestors used to do this all the time,” Marrett said of long distance travel by canoe. “It’s also really good for our community. It brings lots of visitors. It’s a win-win situation.”