Home » Paddle to Squaxin

Paddle to Squaxin

2012 Tribal Journey “Paddle to Squaxin”

By Fred Shortman

The Chehalis Canoe Family participated in the 2012 Paddle to Squaxin. This is the sixth year participating in the inter-tribal canoe journey that started over twenty-three years ago. It is a spiritual journey returning the cultural teachings back to the tribal people.

A Journey of Discipline

Most important of all it is a Drug and Alcohol Free journey. Before departing, canoe family members sign a code of conduct, which includes the promise they will not consume drugs or alcohol. Family members can be sent home if they don’t follow the code. It doesn’t happen often — but it happens.

Pullers and support crew carrying "tuulap" to the water.

Pullers and support crew carrying “tuulap” to the water.

Traveling together with “One Heart, One Mind” as a family is a holistic and instrumental part of learning about each other. Problem solving as a family unit; being happy to see each other; working together setting up camp; respecting each other’s space; self-discipline. Most of all, praying together: for the health of our sacred mother earth, the families and communities. Learning about the teachings from the Elders and leaders give our canoe family such a solid core.

Rules set as consequences (not punishments) teaching members a core value that many of us don’t forget. Self-discipline on the water: it was an honor to be selected by the skipper to be a puller for a leg of the journey. When you heard the call, “Chehalis Canoe Family Circle-up!” The canoe family members would circle up. In circle is a time to discuss the plans for the next day, leaving time for the pullers, ground crew established on breaking down camp and moving to the next location.

The journey isn’t an easy path to self discovery. On the water, the canoe demands respect and is known to many as a vehicle to healing. Our canoe, “Tu-lap ti weah” is a beautiful sacred cedar strip canoe. Skippers and puller honor her each day with prayers for a safe journey. If the weather is stormy, the experience can be grueling and scary. Somewhere on the leg of a journey, the good work will bring an epiphany and things will become clearer to what our ancestor’s teaching gifts a puller. Each time the paddle hits the water is a prayer and another step closer to the goals for the day. Power pulls dedicated to individuals pick the canoe up and it feels like flowing on air. It is awe-inspiring to witness the pullers using their paddles in unison as the front seat sets the pace. It may look like they are racing, but they are real strong prayers.

The discipline of the canoe extends to life into the sprawling camps that spring up at every landing along the journey. There are incidents and they are solved as a family during circle. The discipline is especially important for the children in the camps. They are expected to take direction from tribal elders, stick to a curfew, and take part in the protocol ceremonies in the pavilions at night. Reminding them they are actually there to experience the culture. Sometime you can see them beading their regalia, practicing our canoe family songs, or making gift items to given at final protocol.

Skipper Gail White Eagle asks permission from Squaxin Island Tribal Elders to come ashore to share songs and dance during the final landing at the Port of Olympia.

Skipper Gail White Eagle asks permission from Squaxin Island Tribal Elders to come ashore to share songs and dance during the final landing at the Port of Olympia.

Final Landing at the Port of Olympia

On Sunday, July 29 was the final day on the water where 102 canoes landed at the Port of Olympia in Budd Inlet. What a sight! The Squaxin Island greeted them with the beating of the drums and songs sung echoed across the loud speakers. An osprey hovered above the canoes greeting them in turn. What a moment. The canoes sang their canoe family songs, paddles up honoring the hosting tribe, then proceeding to their region on the flotilla line in front of the grand stand.

As the drum rhythm quieted the crowd, the Water Ceremony was explained, “Our grandmothers and grandfathers have taught us, water is medicine. Whenever we are sick or sad in spirit, water can help give us strength. On the canoe we have the greatest respect for the water because we recognize the strength of its power. There is no other element that can fall so gentle as the dew or ride so high in the sky like an eagle, yet carve out hillsides and disguise itself as a cold rock of ice. Water has power to help us, but we need to take care of the power by being respectful in whatever we do on the land.” The announcer gave permission to hold up their container of water (from their place uniting the tribes together as one) and gently pour it into Budd Inlet. As this happened, all of the paddlers sang the canoe anthem, a song of spiritual protection that was gifted to the Squaxin Tribe by Chief Frank Nelson, a respected cultural leader from Canada. As the song called all to look upon the water. This is an unspoken prayer for the waters.

Hands-Up to those that helped along the Journey.

Our canoe family gives a “Hands Up” to John and Mary Setterstrom for their time and effort in providing their support boat “The Clarity” for the fifth year in a row. To his friend on the “Barbara Ann” for providing his support boat giving a much needed rest and assisting our canoe and family to get to our final destination is greatly appreciated. To Elders Donna and Ellery Choke for assisting us in reserving our spots in various locations, those were some very early mornings for you. To Elders, Trudy Marcellay, Dianne Devlin and many others for assisting us along the way. To all the hosting tribes. Thanks to many others who supported our family along the way. To the Squaxin Island Tribe and their volunteers for hosting this year’s canoe journey, what an outstanding job in taking care of all of the canoe families. Again, Thank You so very much!!!

Singers and Dancers during Final Protocol at Squaxin.

Singers and Dancers during Final Protocol at Squaxin.

Final Protocol

There was excitement in the air for the Chehalis Canoe Family. Having awaited for that moment to take the floor on Friday, August 3 for Formal Protocol to honor the Squaxin Island Tribe. Dancers and Singers came in full regalia. Elders, adults and youth alike taking part in this ceremony. There were many songs, gift giving and smiles as we drummed and sang our songs. A small token of our friendship to the Squaxin Island people for teaching about the canoe. Supporting and praying with us on the land and water. Our hands go up to them! An outstanding job in Hosting the 2012 Paddle to Squaxin!

Next year is the Paddle to Quinault.


Paddle to Squaxin


Originally published in our Chehalis Tribal Newsletter,
August 2012 which can be downloaded below.


The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation

Call information at +1 (360) 273-5911.
We can help you get in touch with the right party.