Jamestown S’Klallam elder Celeste Dybeck plopped, exhausted, into a chair when she arrived home last week from a day of Paddle to Muckleshoot events at Jamestown Beach. The 72-year-old would …
Jamestown S’Klallam elder Celeste Dybeck plopped, exhausted, into a chair when she arrived home last week from a day of Paddle to Muckleshoot events at Jamestown Beach. The 72-year-old would face additional demands the following day, when canoes from various tribes were scheduled to arrive at Fort Worden in Port Townsend.
For Dybeck, helping with the days-long celebration honoring indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest coast and Salish Sea is a labor of love. It is the same for thousands of other participants, whether they be volunteers, canoe skippers, or “pullers,” those who paddle the canoes. Some tribes travel hundreds of miles, including on the open ocean, depending on their location.
Canoes are often decorated and fly a flag to signify the tribe they represent; some are large enough to hold 20 people.
The host tribe then welcomes the visitors and their support teams. They offer food and lodging so visitors can feel refreshed when they resume their journey to their destination. This year, that destination was Alki Beach in West Seattle, not far from the Muckleshoot reservation near Auburn. The weeklong celebration there is underway and will conclude on Sunday, Aug. 6.
For Dybeck, it is an emotional time.
“I got teary-eyed because it’s our history,” she said.
The roots of the annual canoe journey date to 1989 when Emmet Oliver, a member of the Quinault Indian Nation, asked the governor to include tribes in planning the state’s centennial celebration. Oliver organized “Paddle to Seattle,” which led to the canoe journey for families and teams becoming an annual event with a different tribe hosting each year.
“When I talk to kids about the history of Indians, I say the waterway is like our freeway and the canoes are like our cars,” Dybeck said.
Paddle to Muckleshoot is the first canoe journey since 2019; It did not take place in 2020, 2021 or 2022 because of COVID-19 concerns.
By 8 a.m. on Wednesday, July 26, Dybeck was headed to Fort Worden to join other volunteers for the welcoming event hosted by the Jamestown S’Klallam, Port Gamble S’Klallam and Lower Elwha S’Klallam tribes. Among the to-do list was erecting canopies for tribal elders to sit under where they could watch the canoes arrive and witness traditions that include drumming and singing without having to step over logs or slog through beach sand.
Members of the Port Townsend High School football team helped carry the heavy canoes far enough onto the beach that they would be safe from high tides.
Volunteers served up snacks that included fresh cut fruit from the Port Townsend Food Co-op. Dozens of people volunteered to provide homemade cookies.
Shuttle buses were on hand all day to transport visitors to the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.
That afternoon, as volunteers were gearing up to prepare a Jamestown S’Klallam tribal dinner of elk and salmon burgers for 1,200 people, Dybeck reported everyone appeared to be having a good time.
“If they’re not,” she quipped good-naturedly, “it’s their own fault.”