By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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The vast distance between the North Olympic Peninsula and Bella Bella, B.C., prompted most area tribes to modify their game plans for this year's Tribal Canoe Journey.
Most tribal members are traveling to this year's destination of Bella Bella, which is more than 500 miles away, by more modern means than canoe.
But pullers in the Quileute's Seawolf canoe set out more than a month ago for the remote community north of Vancouver Island on Campbell Island halfway up the coast of mainland British Columbia, where the Heiltsuk Nation is hosting the week-long celebration for this year's journey from July 13-19.
The Quileute canoe left tribal waters at LaPush with 16 pullers and a support boat, the Quileute Tribal Council said in a prepared statement.
Tribal council members and some elders plan also to attend the protocols at Bella Bella, the council said.
The pullers left Sayward, on the northeast coast of Vancouver Island on Saturday morning, towing to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, said puller Miss Ann Penn Charles.
Lower Elwha, Makah and Jamestown S'Klallam tribes will send representatives, but most will travel in vehicles and on ferries.
“This year, with the distance and the time, it's just a little prohibitive for a lot of people,” said Makah General Manager Meredith Parker.
“It's basically a month on the water. That's a lot of time for working people.”
The Jamestown S'Klallam tribe put a canoe in the water for this year's canoe journey but traveled only to Vancouver Island.
The pullers (those in a canoe are never called “rowers”) came ashore on Vancouver Island after crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Port Angeles on June 23.
“We don't have enough strong pullers that can handle the rough waters up there,” said Ron Allen, Jamestown S'Klallam tribal chairman.
Canoe teams from other Western Washington tribes and Canadian first nations are making their way now up the island for a July 13 arrival at Bella Bella.
The Tribal Canoe Journey is important cultural event that began with the “Paddle to Seattle” in 1989, which was conceived by Quinault tribal member Emmet Oliver and Frank Brown of Bella Bella.
That led to the first annual Canoe Journey in 1993, which was in Bella Bella.
Pullers leave their own shores in hand-carved wooden canoes and make daily protocols in which they ask the host tribe or first nation for permission to come ashore.
Landings are followed by meals, storytelling and the exchange of traditional songs, dances and gifts.
The Tribal Canoe Journey culminates with a large cultural celebration at a different location every year.
The Makah hosted the Tribal Canoe Journey in 2010. The Lower Elwha Klallam tribe was the final stop for hundreds of pullers and thousands of other Northwest Coast coastal indigenous peoples in 2005.
Although the Makah do not have a canoe making the point-to-point journey, the tribe does plan to haul several canoes to west-central British Columbia to assist with ground landings later this week.
About 30 Makah plan to attend the protocols at Bella Bella, Parker added.
Likewise, the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe does not have a canoe team in this year's journey.
However, two tribal members planned to join a Port Gamble S'Klallam canoe team on north Vancouver Island this weekend, Lower Elwha Klallam tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles said.
“We're looking at bringing a small group to Bella Bella,” Charles added.
Jamestown S'Klallam spokeswoman Vickie Carroll said two members of her tribe will join the same Port Gamble S'Klallam canoe team.
About a dozen others from the Jamestown tribe will travel to Bella Bella by bus, Carol added.
The 17-hour trip from Port Angeles to Bella Bella requires a 310-mile drive up the east coast of Vancouver Island and a 118-mile ferry ride from Port Hardy to the isolated community of about 1,400.
An experienced team of Jamestown S'Klallam pullers completed the trip to Bella Bella 21 years ago, Allen said.
This year's team, a mix of elders and inexperienced youth, agreed with tribal officials that it would be unsafe to complete the journey without a larger safety boat, Allen said.
“The safety boat was a big deal to us and them,” Allen said.
Information from the Hoh tribe was not available last week.
The Jamestown S'Klallam hosted several tribes on June 21. The Lower Elwha welcomed the procession in Port Angeles on June 22.
Back in Neah Bay, the Makah received permission from the Heiltsuk nation to use Bella Bella as the destination in a canoe journey-based public health initiative that awards miles for exercise and cultural engagement.
Public Health Director Mel Melmed said 25 teams of four are earning miles for a range of activities, including walking, bicycling, dancing, gardening, yoga, berry or cedar gathering or attending language class or chemical dependency recovery meetings.
Tribal members are tracking their progress on a map outside the community gym that depicts the 731-mile route from Neah Bay to Bella Bella.
“We're really excited about it,” Parker said.
The Quileute tribe paddlers felt “it was important for us to honor our teachings from our elders and our way of life to travel our highways,” Penn Charles said.
“Very important for our elders, our families and community to see us leave our waters. We are so thankful to our tribal council for their support.”
The tribal council said it was proud of the pullers and support personnel.
“It is a long haul and we have them in our prayers for safe travels,” the council said in a statement. “They are honoring our elders, culture and ancestral traditions.”
A map of the 2014 Paddle to Bella Bella is available at www.canoejourneymaps.org.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.