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Canoe Journey comes to San Juan today

Coast Salish canoes arrive in Roche Harbor today as part of the 2008 Canoe Journey. A community welcome dinner is scheduled tonight at 7.  - File photo / Scott Rasmussen
Coast Salish canoes arrive in Roche Harbor today as part of the 2008 Canoe Journey. A community welcome dinner is scheduled tonight at 7.
— image credit: File photo / Scott Rasmussen

Twelve, possibly 13, Coast Salish canoes depart Shaw Island for Roche Harbor this morning, as part of the 2008 Intertribal Canoe Journey. Canoes are expected to begin arriving at Roche Harbor early afternoon.

A free community welcome dinner is scheduled tonight at 7 p.m., at Roche Harbor. To help, call Stephanie Buffum-Field of Friends of the San Juans, 378-2319.

The Canoe Journey revives the tradition of canoe travel on Coast Salish and First Nations ancestral waters. Participating canoe families start in their home territories and make stops along the way along their route to the final destination. This year, the Canoe Journey concludes in the territory of the Cowichan First Nation, which also hosts the North American Indigenous Games.

Stopping at Roche Harbor are canoes from Lummi, Nooksack, Samish, Stillaguamish, Suquamish, Swinomish and Tulalip. Many of the canoe pullers have ancestral ties to the San Juans. The Canoe Journey last stopped at Roche Harbor in 2004.

The Canoe Journey is a cultural connection like no other: With the cedar, which for millennia has provided material for art, canoes, clothing, fishing nets and houses; with the water, the marine highway for coastal peoples since time immemorial; and with extended families across the Northwest Coast.

It’s also an intense athletic event; some canoes travel for hundreds of miles to get to the final destination, and each puller has to be mentally, physically and spiritually disciplined.

At each stop along the Canoe Journey, the public can watch the colorful, soulful arrival of the canoes: Colorful, because each canoe and paddle is an elaborately carved work of art; and soulful, because many of the canoe families keep time to songs, which often come to them on the water.

On the shore, in keeping with tradition, canoe families ask permission β€” often in their own languages β€” to enter and leave each territory.

Washington State Ferries issued an advisory asking that customers traveling to the San Juan Islands between Wednesday and Saturday plan ahead for extra congestion. WSF expected 500 participating canoe family members, 60 vehicles and 22 trailers traveling to Shaw Island on Wednesday and San Juan Island today.

Local welcoming sponsors include Bison Gallery, Kitchen Garden, Marine Resources Committee, Northwest Straits Commission, Portals of Welcome Committee, Port of Friday Harbor, Roche Harbor Resort and Marina, San Juan Initiative, San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau amd Scenic Byways Committee, Shaw Store, Soroptimist International of Friday Harbor, The Whale Museum, and U.W. Friday Harbor Labs.

β€” Want to help? Call 378-2319. Escort boats are needed for the Haro Strait crossing Saturday, departing at 8 a.m. Donations are needed for ferry tickets for ground crew travel.

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