Tribal canoes come ashore in Port Townsend

PORT TOWNSEND — “We weren’t lost, we were just touring,” said Ron Sam, a member of the First Nations Ahouset tribe from western Vancouver Island.

He was describing the foggy paddle from Jamestown to Port Townsend on Saturday, as canoes and support crews from coastal tribes converged on the beach at Fort Worden State Park.

By 3 p.m., an hour after the estimated arrival time, about a dozen canoes of the some 35 expected were beached on the shore, greeted by hundreds of spectators and fellow tribal members.

The pullers, some as young as 11, waited offshore for the welcoming Klallam tribal leaders to give them permission to come ashore.

Hosting the landing were the Lower Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes.

Choppy sea, thick fog

The pullers’ day began with dragging their 1,000-pound, hand-carved cedar canoes across the mud flats of low tide at Sequim Bay, then battling choppy, rolling seas, a brisk wind and a fog that clung to the shore.

While the canoes are traditional, pullers travel with at least one modern support boat equipped with communications and rescue gear, so getting lost is not a hazard.

Still, Sam, the skipper of his canoe, joked about their navigational skills in the thick fog.

“We knew that if the shore was on the right side we were going the right way — if it was on the left we weren’t!”

A canoe from the Port Gamble S’Klallam tribe held “Little Miss S’Klallam,” 6-year-old Veronica Hernandez.

Clad in a sweatshirt and wearing her regal sash and headdress, she looked glad to be on solid ground, and reported that she had become seasick on the journey.

While Hernandez may have been the youngest member of the crews, many canoes were paddled by teens.

Many teens

Marlin Holden, canoe journey organizer for the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe and the skipper of the canoe Laxaynem, said they had 10 pullers in two canoes who were teens, the youngest being 13.

This is the first year the tribe has allowed people under 18 to join the crews, and he had nothing but good to say about them.

“They’ve been good kids this year,” he said. “They deserve to be in the canoes. They have met the demands of training.”

After the canoes pull up on the shores of Port Madison Bay on the Suquamish reservation today, they also will have met the demands of a journey that for some began 10 days ago.

The Tribal Canoe Journey involves coastal tribes from Washington and British Columbia, with more than 100 canoes participating.

The final landing at Suquamish is followed by five days of celebration.

The event began in 1989 as the Paddle to Seattle and became an annual event in 1993.

It has grown to include more tribes every year, with approximately 100 participating this year.

Pullers from tribes west of Port Angeles converged at Hollywood Beach in Port Angeles on July 29 and 30 before going on to Jamestown.

They were welcomed by members of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe.

Lower Elwha Chairwoman Francis Charles was onshore again yesterday, waiting for the Elwha canoes to come around Point Wilson and in to shore.

Charles said she was grateful to the Coast Guard for their support of the massive undertaking.

With that many people on the water at one time, their presence is invaluable.

In all the water miles logged by Saturday afternoon, there had been no mishaps reported.

“We raise our hands and paddles to them in thanks,” she said.

Charles noted that a canoe is never called a “boat.”

To do so is an insult to the spirit of the canoe.

One young puller from a British Columbia crew was tossed in the water after landing by his fellow pullers.

His offense: He said “the ‘B word'” four times.


Features Editor Marcie Miller can be reached at 360-417-3550 or

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