Tracy Rector/Longhouse Media
The Heiltsuk First Nation is hosting 31 canoes from Pacific Northwest indigenous nations. That number was provided by the manager of the Paddle to Bella Bella Facebook page. Canoes arrived July 13; the week of cultural celebration continues through July 19.

Canoe Journey Message: Protect Our Fragile Environment

Richard Walker

Indeed, the current climate crisis indicates a loss of connection with those stories and the realities they represent, said Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Nation and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. Outspoken on issues related to climate change and environmental protection, she said catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy and the wildfires in California and Washington may be headline stories today, but the ancestors would have viewed them as a symptom of a larger problem—a disconnect between humanity and nature. She expressed the hope the Canoe Journey will restore that connection.

“That generation on the water right now—they are keys to success in the future,” Sharp said. “They will be the ones that will carry on the message that we can’t do those things we know are harmful to our fragile ecosystem.”

The Canoe Journey is itself a tool to monitor the health of the sea. In each Canoe Journey since 2008, in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), several canoes carry probes that collect water data and feed the data into a recorder aboard the canoe. The data measures water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH and turbidity. The USGS is using the data to track water quality and its effects on ecosystem dynamics and has posted results from 2008-2013 at Coast Salish Tribal Journey Water Quality Project - A Blending of Science and Tradition.

It’s the Canoe Journey’s first return to Bella Bella since 1993, when canoes made the long journey north to fulfill a vision of Canoe Journey founders Emmett Oliver and Frank Brown after the 1989 Paddle to Seattle, which took place as part of Washington’s centennial celebration. The 1993 journey sparked a revival in indigenous travel on the marine highways of the ancestors.

En route to the final destination, canoes visit indigenous nations along the way, each stop filled with sharing: traditional foods, languages, songs, dances and teachings. Pulling great distances can test the puller’s physical readiness and mental discipline. Traveling the way of the ancestors can be a spiritual experience, and songs often come to pullers on the water.

This journey was as challenging as the 1993 journey; pullers pulled through passages and channels and had to time each transit right so that they weren’t toiling against the tide.

More than 100 canoes participated in last year’s journey to the Quinault Nation. The distance and isolated destination in this year’s voyage requires as much as a month off for many pullers and support crews; Heiltsuk First Nation is hosting 31 canoes this year, according to the 2014 Paddle to Bella Bella Facebook page.


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