Paddles break through the water in sync, propelling each canoe through the water, guided by song and storytelling from the families aboard. These are the sounds in the invitation song the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe released, calling to canoe families across the Pacific Northwest.
For over three decades, tribal canoe families from the Salish sea and beyond have gathered together each summer for Canoe Journey. After a three year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the journey and following week of potlatch ceremony will resume this year, hosted by Muckleshoot for the first time since 2006.
One hundred twenty canoe families from tribes across British Columbia, Oregon and Washington will begin the journey this week, landing at Alki Beach in Seattle on July 30. Readers can follow along with Underscore News from July 30 to Aug. 2 as we cover the event. You can find updates on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and Facebook.
One by one, each canoe will ask permission from Muckleshoot tribal members to land, starting with the families that traveled the furthest.
Following the landing, a week of potlatch protocol will take place at the Muckleshoot Community Center — the tribe is expecting a crowd of 8,000 to 10,000 to gather in celebration of the event. Potlatch will begin July 31 and continue for 24 hours a day until Aug. 6.
For hundreds of tribal members from across the Salish Sea and beyond, canoe journey is about cultural connection — sharing traditions, songs, stories and language between generations.
“For me, canoe journey represents resiliency,” said Puyallup tribal member David (tib stubš) Bean. “We’re still here despite the federal government’s efforts to erase us.”
Bean first found his way to canoe journey in 2006 when he was elected to Puyallup tribal council.
This year, he will not be riding on one of Puyallup’s four canoes but instead will be working with Muckleshoot to announce the canoes as they arrive at Alki Beach.
Roberta Basch is another Puyallup tribal member who has been participating in canoe journey for over the past decade. This year, Basch and her family will once again be riding on their canoe, swaq̓ʷsəb (lightning). Their canoe can be identified by a blue lighting bolt on the front.
For Basch, canoe journey is an important time to connect and learn from one another and nature.
“We want to build community at the grassroots level and acknowledge our existence as human beings and our relationship to the natural world,” Basch said. “And welcoming anyone who has connection to traditional Indigenous values.”
Follow along with Underscore News from July 30 to Aug. 2 as we cover the event. You can find updates on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and Facebook.
Lead image: Puyallup tribal members practice for the annual canoe journey in July 2023. Photo courtesy of David Bean.