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Canoe crews put their paddles up as the 2017 Tribal Canoe Journey gets underway on July 17 in the Squaxin Island ‘s traditional territory. (Julian Brave NoiseCat) (Secwepemc/St’at’imc) is one of two recipients of the 2017 CJF-CBC Journalism Fellowships, established to encourage Indigenous voices and better understanding of Indigenous issues in Canada’s major media and community outlets. He is reporting on the annual Tribal Canoe Journey paddle to Campbell River, B.C. with generous support from the fellowship.

Arcadia Point, Washington, July 17 — It’s Monday morning rush hour in Seattle. Just 40 miles to the south and west, in the traditional territory of the Squaxin Island Tribe, a very different kind of journey is about to begin.

About 50 people from the Nisqually, Puyallup, Skokomish and Squaxin Island tribes are gathered on the rocky shores of Arcadia Point. The point, now the site of a small waterfront subdivision, lies just across the inlet from Squaxin Island —the Squaxin Island tribe’s original reservation.

Some tribal members describe this desolate islet, where their ancestors were incarcerated for generations, as a concentration camp. The community relocated to a reservation on the mainland decades ago.

Today, on the Arcadia side of the inlet, children splash in summer water. Trucks back down the boat launch, settling canoes and skiffs into the gentle and generous South Salish Sea. Crews and onlookers greet old friends.

After I snap a photo, a man with ties to the Lil’Wat Nation, where I have relatives, introduces himself. As strong men guide canoes and boats to shore forming a loose row of beached watercraft, elders and parents holler at kids to stop playing in the shallows. It’s important to respect the canoes.

The Tribal Canoe Journey, an annual trans-national Indigenous voyage and gathering that brings together communities across the Pacific Northwest from places as far-flung as Ketchikan, Alaska and Grand Ronde, Oregon, is about to begin. A child plays in the water at the boat launch on the Arcadia side of the inlet. (Julian Brave NoiseCat) One by one, five canoes of young paddlers set off from Arcadia Point. Two each represent Squaxin Island and Puyallup and one represents Skokomish. Before departing, each canoe circles back to shore, approaching an expectant Squaxin delegation.

"Paddles up!" yells each skipper from the canoe’s stern.

In historic times, canoes pulling aggressively to shore usually meant one thing: war. As canoes approach landfall, crew members put their paddles up, grips planted on the floor and tips pointing to the sky, to show that they come in peace.

Then a young man or woman stands up, balancing delicately in the canoe. Each thanks the Squaxin delegation for their hospitality and asks permission to leave their shores. A single elected representative from Squaxin responds.

As the canoes glide out to sea en route to Solo Point in Nisqually territory, singers in the canoes and ashore let loose with the paddle song of their respective canoe family.

This protocol will be repeated dozens of times as canoes pull through hundreds of kilometres of seascape, making their way to Campbell River, B.C., halfway up the eastern side of Vancouver Island for a week of potlatch song, dance, feast and giveaway from Aug. 5-10.

After Nisqually, these five canoes will continue up the sound on a special youth leg of the journey that will pass through Seattle on Wednesday, July 19, before ending in Port Gamble on Friday, July 21. After the youth leg, these canoe families will return to their respective home ports before continuing to Vancouver Island.

"For the Squaxin Island tribe, the canoe journey has so many values that cannot be expressed in money," said Charlene […]

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