PORT ANGELES — Speaking the Klallam language, the youth of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe welcomed coastal tribes from Washington and British Columbia to the newly formed beach on the east side of the Elwha River on Sunday.
It was a milestone in the Paddle to Lummi that involved tribes from Canada crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca and meeting with Washington tribes as they landed at the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s reservation for the first time since 2005.
Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles said the tribe is humbled and honored to welcome 18 canoe families to the more-than-100-acre beach that formed after the removal of the two fish-blocking dams on the Elwha River.
“It has been long overdue,” Charles said. “We’re really overwhelmed and humbled to come down to witness what they have today, because it is sacred ground to us.”
She said the tribe, which usually hosts the landing at Hollywood Beach in Port Angeles, has been discussing moving it back to tribal land for the past few years, but there had been concern about sensitive areas along the beach.
Charles said Sunday’s landing served as a “trial” for when the tribe hosts the Canoe Journey in 2025. The first and only time it hosted the journey was in 2005 — the last time canoes landed near the mouth of the Elwha River.
“A lot of our elders really encouraged us to move forward with it, but when we announced it to the youth they were jumping up and down with joy at having the opportunity to know they were going to come to their own lands here,” Charles said. “That was something that was really heartful and overwhelming because we saw the excitement in all their eyes just to know they would be coming down here.”
As tribes asked permission to land Sunday, many said they are looking forward to sharing stories, songs and dances with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and others during the two-day stop.
The tribe hosted dinner Sunday and tribes were expected to share songs later in the evening.
“We’ll be having some in-house meetings to talk about strategies of leaving from here and the pull they’ll have,” she said. “It’s going to be a longer pull for them, but if they have the wind to their back like it is now then they’ll fast-track.”
Tribes are expected to land in Jamestown some time Tuesday. They will then paddle to Port Townsend on Wednesday and Port Gamble on Thursday. They will visit tribes throughout the Puget Sound as they make their way to Lummi by about July 24.
Exact times that canoes are expected to land are not known and depend on tides, currents and the weather.
Charles said that as Elwha canoe families make their way to Lummi, the tribe’s youth will continue to speak their language when they ask permission to land. She said the youth practice year round to give speeches in the Klallam language.
“We’re very humbled for our elders and those who passed on who are witnessing this today from above … to witness their great-great grandchildren to stand on these beaches or other areas,” Charles said.
She said it is humbling because in the 1990s the tribe was at risk of losing its language, but now its youth are speaking Klallam as fluently as they speak English.
“There are no words for it because it warms your heart,” Charles said. “You see the glitter in the elders’ eyes and the community’s eyes … watching them be able to speak naturally like I’m talking now.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.