Paddle Journey 2001

By: Erin Anderson

This is not a story about mapping. But it does involve a journey.

On Sunday, July 15, the Nisqually and Puyallup canoes gathered at Solo Point in Nisqually, Washington for a Blessing Ceremony and feast to mark the start of a two-week paddle journey to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Paddle Journey 2001, "Our Hands Are Lifted Up To You", which officially began the following day, is the latest in a series of canoe journeys, which began in 1989. In that year, Emmet Oliver from Washington and Frank Brown from Bella Bella, BC organised the "Paddle to Seattle" to coincide with the Washington State Centennial celebration. Nine canoes participated in the event, which renewed interest in ocean-going travels among Washington and British Columbia tribes. Since then, ten paddle events have been held, including a Tribal Journey as part of the Opening Ceremonies for the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, BC.

At the conclusion of the 1989 journey, the Heiltsuk people of Bella Bella "challenged" Canadian First Nations and Native American Tribes to paddle to their territory in four years. (This four-year challenge was initially how the destination for the next paddle journey was chosen. Now, there is actually one almost every year.)

Twenty-five nations accepted the challenge and took part in the Qatuwas ("People Gathering Together") Journey, which culminated in a cultural gathering attended by 3,000 First Nations.

Qatuwas Festival Canoes at
U'mista Cultural Centre,
Bella Bella
Photo: Canadian Museum of Civilization

Since then the journeys have continued to grow in popularity and participation. This year's promises to be "the biggest event yet" as thousands of people are expected to participate and celebrate.

Traditionally, paddle journeys ended with several days of celebration at the host village or tribal community. This year is no different as the Squamish Nation will host the Great Celebration Gathering from July 27-August 2. Festivities will include traditional entry, welcome and landing celebrations, international canoe presentations, the honouring of residential school survivors and the Squamish Pow-Wow. For more information, on this and other paddle journeys, check out the recent Paddle Journeys or Turtle Island Native Network websites.