The Paddle to Swinomish: Loving, Caring and Sharing

The Paddle to Swinomish: Loving, Caring and Sharing

Coast Salish Gathering News

Preparations unfold to welcome canoe families

Aurelia Washington has spent the past year coordinating the preparations for the arrival of more than 100 canoes at Swinomish, which began their journey this past Monday, July 25, and ends this Sunday, July 31.

It was a year in which Washington reflected on the teachings of her late grandfather, Chester Cayou Sr., who believed in the teaching to be loving, caring and sharing together. Many canoe families from past journeys will remember Chester welcoming them to Swinomish in the Lushootseed language.

When this leader passed away almost a year ago at age 88 after serving 25 years in the Swinomish Senate, he left a vision for the Paddle to Swinomish that his granddaughter, as its coordinator, would live every day as she prepared for this year’s festivities.

She even wove the cedar hat that was the model for the new hat pavilions in the park at the heart of the Swinomish reservation.  Standing 30 feet tall and 60 feet in diameter, the pavilions are large enough to seat 250 people.

Aurelia smiled when caught taking a rare break at her desk a few days before the canoes were to begin arriving. Her desk was surrounded by tables piled high with cedar hats and other hand-crafted gifts for Swinomish to give honored guests.

Aurelia’s good works and kindness throughout the busy preparations were noticed by her mother, Swinomish Senator Sophie Bailey.

"Our spirits are soaring with happiness as we welcome our families from throughout the Salish Sea to the ancestral homelands of the Swinomish People," Senator Bailey said.  "My father, Chester Cayou Sr., is smiling with us as he sees his granddaughter Aurelia Washington, who is the coordinator of the Tribal Journey, sharing his teachings of loving, sharing and caring throughout the Tribal Journey."

Savoring summer journeys

Of the 16 years that Brian Cladoosby has been chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, few have rivaled this one.

Sure, there were tears. But there were also meetings at the White House, where Brian wore two Robert EagleBear woven cedar hats in, and left one as a gift on the table in front of President Obama. In the same year, Brian has served as president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and will welcome the National Congress of American Indians to the Northwest in the fall.

But the clincher of a great year is always the Tribal Journey. This week Cladoosby takes his place with outstretched hands to welcome the more than 100 canoes, some which have traveled 1,000 miles to reach the end of this year’s journey, Swinomish.

"I have been blessed by the Creator in so many ways, and it is with great honor that I wear this beautiful hand-woven cedar regalia that was bestowed on me by traditional weaver Mary Snowden and Robert EagleBear," Brian said.

Ms. Snowden learned to weave from her Quileute grandmother, and she shared her wonderful gift with Brian.

Brian’s father, Mike Cladoosby, shared the traditional gifting ceremony with friends and family, as receiving this gift of cedar was a monumental moment in the life of his son. With his wife, Nena, giving has turned out to be a way of life for him.


Sue Oliver stood happily in the sun on Alki Beach in Seattle after the long five-hour pull from the Port of Tacoma.

“Today the water was really helpful to us,” she said. “Smooth swells along the way. We saw eagles fishing, and fish jumping.”

The Oliver Canoe Family is honoring their relative Emmett Oliver, who is 97 and will journey by car, not canoe, to Swinomish for the festivities. Emmett was one of the people who was instrumental in bringing back the canoe tradition, Sue said.

Alki Beach was the destination of the first paddle, Paddle to Seattle, in 1989. Many among the 14 canoe families on Alki Beach this year could be heard talking about that first paddle of a few canoes, and how amazing it is that more than 100 were journeying toward Swinomish as they spoke.

To honor Emmett’s contributions, his son, the distinguished Quinault artist Marvin Oliver, created the art that adorns their paddles and the carved-cedar canoe.

The paddles and some of the other carving was done by John Smith, Skokomish.

The Tribal Journey is the busy time of year for John Smith, who has been known to deliver by motorboat a set of six paddles on the water—after getting a cell-phone call from a canoe family with less-than-adequate gear.

John Smith taught two paddle-making weekend workshops at the Evergreen State College Longhouse in the spring. The workshops were filled to capacity with canoe family paddlers and people from other tribes at home on the water.

At least one paddle made in those workshops reached Alki beach in the hands of a Yakama puller from Goldendale, Wash., in a Puyallup family canoe.

Canoes from other traditions

As Coast Salish and Washington Coast tribes’ Tribal Journeys have grown, many other tribes want to join in, either pulling in another canoe, or by bringing their own.

For many years, canoe families from Alaska have journeyed down.

The Warm Springs Tribe from along the Columbia River in Central Oregon is part of the journey this year, and so are the Chumash from the area of Santa Barbara, Calif.

This year, a Chumash tomol with long paddles, like those that kayakers use, has made its way slowly up the coast over water and sometimes land. The tomol isn’t as suited to the variety of currents and tides in the Salish Sea as some canoes. For the Chumash, who are reviving their paddling tradition, the opportunity to paddle with other canoe families on this sea is a profound experience.

The Coast Salish have many canoes, and some years the long, skinny river canoes from the First Nations on the Fraser River have come out to the sea. Even a birchbark canoe has been part of the journey.

Celebrating together

Antonette Squally, Nisqually, says one word epitomizes the Tribal Journeys for her. It is higw?d, which for Nisqually and other tribes in the South Salish Sea is the word for respect.

“If you don’t use, I will take it back,” she says in the tone of voice that she uses to teach Lushootseed to tribal students at Chief Leschi School near Tacoma.

Respect in the Tribal Journey, in the sense of the Coast Salish and other traditions is the way every canoe family introduces a new friend to everyone from the elders to the children. Welcoming people is the way of this journey. At every stop a leader from that place stands on the shore formally welcoming the guests.  And every time the journey pulls out on the water, or even in the trucks and cars following the journey, another 200 people seem to join it, Antonette said.

Her aunt Caroline Byrd sits next to her, listening and agreeing.

“Our Nisqually canoe family has grown too,” Antonette said. “When we first started, there were about 30 of us, and now there are 150 people from our tribe. This canoe journey kind of opened us up.”

Tribal communities on these salt waters have opened up also, creating pavilions and campgrounds for thousands of people who are on this deeply tribal, ancient journey.

At Swinomish, Kevin Paul, a traditional carver, has been making ready for all the people who are about to arrive.

“I have spent many hours carving in the quietness of our community," he said.  "And in the past few weeks, my heart is warmed by the sound of the drums, songs, and laughter filling our homes as we await the arrival of our brothers and sisters from around the Salish Sea.

“Just as our elders gave us memories, we are creating a life-changing experience for our children, and we are all proud to host the 2011 Tribal Journey.”

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