Annual tribal canoe journey returns to Fort Worden’s shores July 17

Posted 7/10/19
When the annual canoe journey returns to the beaches of Fort Worden July 17, the tribes taking part would ask spectators to be respectful of the event’s cultural significance, something that one of the organizers credited the crowds at Port Townsend with doing very well so far.

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Annual tribal canoe journey returns to Fort Worden’s shores July 17

Posted
When the annual canoe journey returns to the beaches of Fort Worden July 17, the tribes taking part would ask spectators to be respectful of the event’s cultural significance, something that one of the organizers credited the crowds at Port Townsend with doing very well so far. “Since we started, everyone has been really nice here,” said Marlin Holden, an elder with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, who helps host the roughly dozen or so canoe families and support groups that come in each year. “I don’t know how many people each year come by because they know it’s happening, or because they just happen to be passing by and are curious.” It’s not a performance. It’s a tradition. Holden estimated canoe families can range from 6-7 people from Canada to 13-14 per canoe for bigger families, and when joined by their respective support groups, he expects to serve about 800 people a year, which he admitted is an expensive duty, between the Port Townsend, Port Gamble and Jamestown stops of the canoe journey. “We provide a place for these folks to park and shower,” Holden said. “We feed them an evening meal, and host them while they dance and sing. When we welcome them onto the beach, we tell them, ‘Today is a good day, and we’re glad you arrived.’ It’s the same message that the head man or chief at a potlatch would deliver, to people coming through his traditional lands.” The visitors receive transportation from Fort Worden to the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, after crews of Port Townsend High School student athletes help pull their canoes ashore. “We have a tremendous pool of volunteers, and again, they’re very respectful,” Holden said. “We have a night watch who looks after the canoes, but they’ve always been treated well here.” One of the biggest challenges facing Holden and his fellow tribal members and volunteers is the variability of each year’s turnout. “It’s not always the same each year,” Holden said. “For example, this year, we won’t have any of the South Sound tribes touching down in Port Townsend, because they’re taking a different route.” Regardless of which stops they make along the way, Holden credited the canoe journeys with contributing to the positive evolution of all the tribes who take part. “You hear young kids now, who speak the language fluently,” Holden said. “There’s singing and dancing like we didn’t have before. I was part of the lost generation. My grandfather was one of the last traditional Jamestown chiefs, and when my grandmother heard him teaching me the language, she made him stop. I realize now she was probably worried that I might be beaten up for it, like her generation was at the Indian schools. Through the canoe journeys, we’re reclaiming that heritage.”

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