After hiatus, intertribal canoe journey returns

2023 ‘Paddle to Muckleshoot’ kicks off next week

For the first time since 2019, the intertribal canoe journey is returning to the Pacific Northwest and includes multiple stops along the North Olympic Peninsula as crews make their way to the Muckleshoot Indian Nation near Auburn.

Organized regional paddle journeys were postponed for three years, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The annual canoe journeys began in 1989 with the “Paddle to Seattle” and have been held each year since, with a different tribe hosting the trip each year.

This year is the “Paddle to Muckleshoot,” and over 100 canoes — known as canoe families — will make their way from various starting points before finally ending at the host community.

Between 120-130 canoes are expected to arrive at Alki Beach in West Seattle on July 30, according to Rollin Fatland, media specialist for the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. Muckleshoot Indian Nation is located inland, and after landing at Alki Beach, canoe families will gather at the tribe’s lands where six days of celebration will follow.

All told, Muckleshoot is expecting between 8,000-10,000 people, Fatland said.

Along the way, families will make stops at other tribal communities along the way where they’ll be welcomed onto tribal land with singing, dancing and food.

“Those are kind of like pit stops,” said Jackie Johnson, communications and publications specialist for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, who will host canoe families at Jamestown Beach and Port Townsend.

The landings are known as “protocol,” and at each stop, canoe families request and are granted permission to come ashore.

“Tribes will be in their canoes, and one by one they in their traditional manner will request to come ashore,. That happens at each location,” Johnson said. “All the canoe families are going back into potlatch culture with introductions, gifting, sharing.”

On the North Olympic Peninsula, families will leave from Quinault, Queets and Hoh River and arrive in Quileute on Thursday and in Neah Bay and Pillar Point the following two days.

On July 23, canoe families from the West End and Vancouver Island will arrive in Port Angeles for two days hosted by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe before heading east. Families are expected at Jamestown Beach on July 25 and in Port Townsend on July 26.

Because the journey has been on hiatus, organizers are expecting a large turnout.

A big one

“We anticipate this being a big one, because everyone is excited to get back in their canoes,” said Lisa Barrell, cultural program supervisor with Jamestown.

“It just brings everyone together. We’re there for a common purpose. And being together since we haven’t been together; the camaraderie, the working together, it feels like it’s stronger this year.”

Many canoe families have support teams on shore that will travel ahead to each location with camping equipment and powered support boats to provide help if needed.

Daily canoe trips can involve as much as 11 hours of rowing, or “pulling” and families train for the journey ahead of time.

The journey mostly involves indigenous tribes from the Pacific Northwest, including some First Nations tribes from British Columbia, but canoe families from Alaska, Hawaii and even as far away as New Zealand have joined in the past.

The landings are open to the public, but there’s a sacred and spiritual component to the journeys meant to celebrate indigenous culture, Johnson said.

“This is an opportunity to revitalize our culture because so much has been taken away,” Johnson said. “It’s bringing us back to how our culture was before.”


Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsuladailynews.com.

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