When Quinault tribal elder Emmett Oliver first organized the Paddle to Seattle in 1989 as part of the state Centennial Celebration, he had a vision of 100 canoes or more one day returning to the shores of the Quinault Indian Nation.
That’s about to come true this August when the Quinaults host the 2013 Intertribal Canoe Journey, the Paddle to Quinault, where tribes across the Northwest travel up and down the Washington coast to Point Grenville Aug. 1-6.
“It is a pilgrimage to who we are and to how our ancestors lived,” said Guy Capoeman, Canoe Journey Coordinator and a master carver and veteran canoe “puller” himself. “It’s a pilgrimage to that time and era.”
During the journey, which can take up to a month, “it opens us up to what it truly means to be a coastal native,” Capoeman said.
The Canoe Journey has evolved year by year into a cultural celebration of national prominence, and the significance of the event was readily apparent at a recent organizational meeting involving all aspects of Quinault Nation services as well as its history and legacy. The tribe’s goal is to raise $1 million to host what is expected to be as many as 15,000 people a day.
“We’re still at the stage where we need to let the Harbor know the magnitude of what we’re planning,” said Pearl Capoeman-Baller, Canoe Journey Ambassador. A fundraising letter from Capoeman-Baller notes the event receives no federal, state or local government funds, and hosting the event “is a large financial obligation for each host tribe who is responsible to provide camping, meals and cultural workshops during this week-long celebration.”
The Quinault Nation last hosted the event in 2002, with 45 canoes arriving back then. Because of the trouble those canoes had navigating the difficult mouth to the Quinault River in the fog, this time the canoes will land at Point Grenville, which offers a smoother beach landing and a chance to showcase one of the most magnificent beach environments on the Northwest coast.
As many as 90 tribes are expected to participate, including Canadian First Nations and New Zealand teams. The overall theme is “Honoring our Warriors.”
As Capoeman-Baller describes the plans, the event “recalls a time when cedar canoes were the traditional mode of transportation for coastal people of the Pacific Northwest.”
At a recent planning meeting attended by a task force of tribal officials such as Natural Resources Director Dave Bingaman, Police Chief Dallas Hensley, Community Services Director Michael Cardwell and Logistic Coordinator Melissa Edwards Miller, it was stressed the event aims to be family friendly.
The goals, they said, are to be protective of the environment and to make it widely known the Canoe Journey is a positive, drug and alcohol-free event open to the general public.
“We hope to be extremely environmentally friendly,” Capoeman-Baller said. “Grenville is the most pristine beach in our eyes.”
As much as possible, the tribe will limit driving on the Grenville beach and will encourage spectators to walk down to the beach to watch as the “pullers” come in. Don’t call them “rowers” in the tradition of those who make the journey.
The tribe already has been collecting native seafood, plants, shellfish, game and other traditional items for the occasion, which will celebrate the art of dugout canoe carving and other aspects of what is considered a Salish cultural renaissance. Tribal cooks are planning a traditional menu, a Quinault Canoe Society has scheduled weekly singing and dance practices, and the Cultural Center will be offering paddle-making and carving workshops to help create drums or other ceremonial tools.
Along with the canoe journey itself, the event will create a lasting legacy on the Quinault’s Western-most point atop the bluff at Grenville, where a cultural center and campus for the journey is springing up. Plans would include a museum, assembly hall and carving shed. The grounds will have parking and camping areas, with trails, large open spaces, fire pits, and a “Statue of Sovereignty.” Plans also detail new septic and water service.
Also, there will be a new totem pole display “symbolizing a new beginning for all Indian people.”
Three totem poles will be raised over the next two years at the site “as symbols of the declaration of Native American sovereignty to all Indian people and all other people of the United States and world.”
The tribe ultimately would like to change the name of Grenville to a more appropriate native name, Hanishu Point, in honor of the tribe’s Phillip Martin, whose traditional name was Hanishu.
As the coordinator of the event itself, Guy Capoeman said the landing at Grenville hearkens back to oral history when James Jackson, the tribe’s heredity chief, would “tell us that point there was used by the old people for bringing in whales and for spiritual preparation of ocean travelers and ocean hunters.”
“That place was used for all of those things so it seemed appropriate that we bring canoes there and host them there. It’s a such spiritual place for Quinaults, and to breathe life into that area again in that regard is very fitting,” Capoeman said.
“We want to show the connections with the world that we have had and that our ancestors have had,” Capoeman said. To experience the ocean in such a way is a spiritual experience, he added, noting the ocean “is our father in our Quinault history.”
For Oliver to be able to realize his vision and see the canoe journey come full circle back to the Quinaults is something everyone connected to the event celebrates.
“He got everybody cedar logs, all us tribes making dug-out canoes,” Capoeman said. “Of course he had a team of people, but he was the mover and the shaker. And to have him here to witness and experience this is amazing.”
“It’s coming to fruition, everything he talked about. The revitalization of ocean culture through canoes is coming to life.”
HOW TO HELP
The canoe journey is in need of volunteers, funding, sponsors and equipment, with several ways for members of the community to assist and take part in the effort. For more information, visit the Paddle to Quinault site online at: http://www.paddletoquinault.org/
Paddle to Quinault on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OfficalTribalJourneys
Or phone the Canoe Journey staff at: (360) 276-8211, ext: 1015.