Makah to welcome 100 canoes today

NEAH BAY — Improvements made on the Makah reservation will last long after this week’s Tribal Canoe Journey celebration, which begins today with the welcoming of some 100 canoes.

“During the canoe journeys, we’re able to build things that are long-lasting within our community,” said Crystal Denney, tribal journeys coordinator for the celebration of Native American culture hosted by the Makah.

“It’s like the world’s fair or the Olympics — we took that same kind of idea and did that here, making some infrastructure improvements,” said Denney, referring to a new gym, new access ramps to the beach and an expanded senior citizens deck.

Another legacy will be the sense of community that preparations encouraged.

“What’s really great is to see everyone working together on this,” said Denney. “It’s brought the whole community together for something positive.

Revitalize, reinforce culture

“It’s helping to revitalize and reinforce a culture that’s already pretty strong.”

The Makah tribe, at the most northwestern tip of the contiguous United States, expects 100 canoes from tribes throughout the Pacific Northwest and western Canada to arrive today, beginning at about 2 p.m.

Each will be welcomed with a ceremony on the beach.

About 40 of the canoes are expected to be from Canada.

The Makah are the southernmost outpost of the Nuu-cha-nulth family of peoples, which extends as far as northern Vancouver Island.

Denney said several Canadian tribes held back from earlier tribal journeys to reserve their resources for the Neah Bay gathering.

“It’s always really nice to see our cousins from all over, all the different tribes,” Denney said.

Tribal members will stay through Saturday, or perhaps Sunday if needed, with each canoe family telling stories, singing songs and performing dances in a huge tent on the Neah Bay High School football field from 10 a.m. to midnight each day.

The Makah will be last, probably late Saturday, but possibly Sunday, and the tribe has prepared “a big show,” Denney said.

Public welcome

The protocols, as the presentations are called, are open to the public, which can also enjoy the 82 vendors in the street fair, the youth activities in the new gym and other activities during the week.

The Makah expect some 10,000 people on their small reservation, and so have made some changes.

They’ve placed logs on the beach for seating, added parking lots and prepared campgrounds at the Makah Tribal Center and the Hobuck Campground with extra seating and fences to protect them from traffic.

The campgrounds were seeded with grass a couple of months ago.

New gym

A major improvement is a new gymnasium, which opened July 6.

The full-sized gym next to Washburn’s General Merchandise on Bayview Avenue, will house youth activities during the tribal journey gathering and will be in use long after for dance practices and sports for tribal members of all ages.

“One of the tribal council’s priorities is community wellness, tribal wellness,” Denney said.

Another addition is a representation of a longhouse on the beach.

“It’s like a movie prop,” Denney said, a facade with scaffolding in back for the tribal council to stand on during the welcoming ceremonies today.

That will remain up at least during the summer, Denney said.

In place permanently are two beach access ramps on a hill on the east end of Neah Bay.

Before the ramps were built, the path was reinforced by rocks acting as steps.

The addition makes it easier for elders and others who might find climbing wearying to visit the beach.

The Makah also expanded and reinforced a deck off the senior center so it can provide a comfortable viewing point of the bay.

The changes reflect the delight the tribe takes in serving as host to the annual canoe journey, Denney said.

“This is really important. It’s bringing people to the Makah nation and showing them our land and a big piece of our culture,” she said.

“Hospitality,” Denney added, “is a big portion of our culture.”

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Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or leah.leach@peninsuladailynews.com.

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