PORT TOWNSEND — A contingent of paddlers on the Paddle to Lummi landed at Fort Worden on traditional S’Klallam land with wind, rain and a large crowd of supporters Wednesday.
The paddlers of coastal tribes from Washington and British Columbia, whose last stop was at Jamestown, started landing on the beach at about 11 a.m. Ten canoes sat on the beach about 90 minutes later after they were carried out of the water by the crew, community members and Port Townsend High School athletes.
The white-capped water and light drizzle were a major change from the blue skies and sun the paddlers saw earlier this week as they were welcomed onto Lower Elwha Klallam tribal land at the mouth of the Elwha River and then were greeted at Jamestown.
North Olympic Peninsula tribes joined the journey earlier this month and picked up Canadian tribes at Port Angeles. At each stop, paddlers ask permission to come ashore and are invited to do so by the hosting tribes which welcome the visitors with ceremonies and potlatches.
The canoes are making their way to Lummi by about July 24 for a weeklong gatheirng. Officials expect 10,000 people and more than 100 canoes to land at Lummi.
The inter-tribal event — which travels to a different host tribe each year — began in 1989, organized by Quinault tribal member Emmett Oliver as the “Paddle to Seattle” to mark Washington state’s centennial.
On Wednesday, Loni Grinnell-Greninger, deputy director of social and comunity services for the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe based in Blyn, stood with a microphone and drum, welcoming the canoes onto the beach.
Although she has not done the canoe journey herself, she has helped with logistics from land her entire life.
“I’m usually on the organizational side, the hosting side,” Grinnell-Greninger said. “I do more of the land work.”
Out of the 22 canoes that landed in Jamestown, 18 were expected in Port Townsend, Grinnell-Greninger said.
However, due to the weather and rough waters, Grinnell-Greninger said she wouldn’t be surprised if that number was less.
Gorden Charles of Beecher Bay First Nations said he’s made the trip at least a dozen times.
“I’ve been over here every time American tribes have hosted the tribal journey,” Charles said.
The canoes left Jamestown at about 7 a.m. Wednesday, and Charles landed in Port Townsend about 11:20 a.m. on a 35-foot-long fiberglass canoe.
The ride was not smooth, however. Charles said the water was difficult to manage due to the wind, especially near Protection Island.
“It got really rough,” Charles said. “All the canoes had to be towed.
“Two girls got seasick, but they hung right in there. Other than that, [the trip] was good.”
Charles has had a different crew at each stop. He left Beecher Bay with nine paddlers, and some have since left the trip or were added later on.
“Some paddlers work, so they can’t make the whole trip,” Charles said.
He said getting on the water is the best part.
“It’s good to be with all the youth,” Charles said.
The Beecher Bay canoe spent the night in Port Townsend, and the crew planned to leave this morning for Port Gamble. Charles said other paddlers might have different plans.
This leg of the trip was special to the Makah Tribe’s Polly Debari, who has made the trip each year since 1997. Her granddaughter was the skipper, and Debari said she did “fantastic.”
“We got into some real chop near Protection Island,” Debari said.
But they were able to arrive safely about noon, albeit soaking wet.
The Makah crew plans to leave today, following the outgoing tide as they head to Port Gamble on the next leg of the journey.
On the beach, the tribes had assistance from many members of the Jefferson County community — most notably a large group of high school athletes from Port Townsend High School — who helped to bring the canoes out of the water and carry them above the high tide line.
Other tribal members assisted after their canoe had landed.
Port Townsend High Principal Carrie Ehrhardt said they were invited to help five years ago.
“We were invited by Jamestown S’Kallam tribe,” Ehrhardt said. “And we’ve been doing it ever since.”
Ehrhardt said she enjoys being able to help with the tradition and being able to share the experience with her students.
“I think it’s great for the students to gather in the summer for a great community event,” Ehrhardt said.
The school had members from multiple athletic teams, such as the football, basketball and volleyball teams, and the students ranged from incoming freshmen to recent graduates.
There were more than 100 people who welcomed the tribe to the beach Wednesday.
Port Gamble is one of the tribes’ last stops before they reach Lummi, the end of the journey.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5 or at [email protected].