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Paddle to Swinomish

2011 Tribal Journey “Paddle to Swinomish”

By Fred Shortman

The Chehalis Canoe Family participated in the 2011 Paddle to Swinomish. This is the fifth year of participating in the canoe journey. There were over 50 tribal and community members who lived, prayed, and travelled together. Some travelling with our canoe, “Tu-lap ti weah”, and others supporting us by travelling by land canoes. 5 Elders, Twenty-one youth, and twenty-five adults travelled from the Squaxin Island to Swinomish. At times elders, tribal and community members visited us at our camp sites or witnessed protocols along the journey.

The Chehalis Family reaching their final destination at Swinomish.

The Chehalis Family reaching their final destination at Swinomish.

Living and traveling with “one heart, one mind” as a family is a holistic and instrumental part of learning about each other. Although, we were traveling together for only a week, being a part of the tribal journey’s you begin to recognize the values that are missing from the world in general, such as: Doing things “In a good way,” being positive; standing each other up; being happy to see each other; working together to keep our camp clean; respecting each other’s space; and praying for the health of the earth, families and communities. Our elders and leaders provided teaching, giving our Canoe Family a strong core. Everyone who participated and represented the Chehalis Tribe was totally awesome! Great job, everyone!

Being able to travel in our canoe is the most honorable way to remember our ancestors who traveled in the same way. Becoming nomadic people by moving from tribe to tribe learning, respecting and sharing their tribal customs. Leaving our camp site like we weren’t even there.

Having weekly canoe practice helped prepare and strengthen the pullers for the journey. Pulling in the our canoe “Tu-lap ti weah” was an honor. As all the pullers recognized that each pull was a prayer and power pulls were special dedicated prayers to individuals that were in need of help.

We honored our ancestors by participating, teaching, preserving and connecting with our culture, and by sharing with our youth about life on the water ways. It is a difficult task living in two worlds: One being able to practice our culture, and the other being able to survive in this modern world. Many destinations were difficult having to pull for 4-6 hours along the sacred waterways overcoming the challenges each day brought.

Life on the Journey

Mother nature started off with challenges as it rained heavily at Squaxin Island creating blue tarp camping. The following morning for the start of the journey she provided a heavy fog to Solo Beach in Nisqually. With the help of our support boat captain we made it safely.

Each person was responsible for decorating their own regalia and making gifts for the final protocol. Free time was well spent in camp as adults and youth were seen working on their items. This is a unique opportunity to learn and share some of their skills with each other from: beading, carving, basket weaving or sharing family’s history or stories strengthening the families bonds.

Youth Puller Cheyenne Pickernell stands up to request permission to come ashore at Solo Point in Nisqually.

Youth Puller Cheyenne Pickernell stands up to request permission to come ashore at Solo Point in Nisqually.

Final Landing

On Monday, July 25 in the midst of a down pour the 75 canoes and families reached their final destination at the Swinomish shore. Witnessing and participating in the Final Landing will last for a lifetime in each person who was there.

A special note for the landing Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire was a puller paddling on the hosting Swinomish Canoe “Salmon Dancer.” Hands Up to those that helped along the Journey.

The Swinomish Tribe and it’s people worked hard in preparation of hosting this annual event. It was the first time they have hosted in the 23 years of the canoe journeys. Hosting is a lot of work, and it improved their tribe immensely spiritually, culturally and economically. What an outstanding job they did, providing clean campsites, bathrooms, showers and laundry rooms. Can’t forget the volunteers as they cooked, cleaned, others who provided rides to and from the campsites. We offer our a huge thank you for this honorable work!

Hand-Up in Thanks

It was an honor to have our Chairman David Burnett show up in different location to support our canoe family. Even in the down pour on the landing, he volunteered to help bring our canoe to its resting place on the Swinomish Shore. Thank you so much chairman for your support.

Our canoe family give a “Hands Up” to John and Mary Setterstrom for your time and effort in providing with their support boat “The Clarity” for the fourth year in a row. Providing pullers with 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 morning for you. Again, Thank you so very much!!!

The Swinomish Elders, Council and Royalty greeted each canoe family during the final landing ceremonies.

The Swinomish Elders, Council and Royalty greeted each canoe family during the final landing ceremonies.

Final Protocol

One youth, Skyler Baker was voted to lead our songs in final protocol at Swinomish. He did an awesome job! We took the floor at 2:00 am and our youth all made us proud as they sang and danced our canoe family songs. The men carried the songs singing “Loud and Proud” while the ladies danced. Our youth were outstanding and made everyone beam with pride. It was a thrilling and inspiring performance. Hands-up to honor our youth for a job well done!

The Swinomish council honored us by playing the Slahal games were played during our Secena Stick game song during our give away.

Canoe Journey Preparation

The Chehalis Canoe Family worked very, very hard this year to make sure that this year’s journey would be a success. The youth are a huge part of our fundraisers effort. We had numerous meetings to learn to drum, sing and dance. Many of the youth attended different coastal jams through-out the off season and their dedication to learn coastal salish song and dance are beginning to show.

There was cold water training was held at Arcadia Point in Squaxin Island. There were weekly practice pulls for the new youth and adults. This builds timing, strength and endurance in preparation for the canoe journey. These are very important training to prepare for any worse case scenarios while travelling on tougher, open water.

On July 17, tribal and community members witnessed the blessing of the Chehalis canoe. Bones performed a blessing for the canoe and prayed for the safety of all the canoe family members and other canoe families who were participating in this years journey. Canoe family Elders, members and leaders used cedar boughs and Chehalis river water to bless the canoe, praying for a safe journey.

What is the Canoe Journey?

The canoe journey is a spiritual and healing time. It is a time for participants to strive to conduct themselves in a manner that is honorable for the Chehalis people. The canoe journey is not a vacation: It is serious work. The canoe is a sacred cedar tree, a healing medicine to our spirit, a connection to our ancestors and the Native and Chehalis tribal spirituality. We learn to care for our canoe with dignity and respect.

All canoe family members sign a waiver and code of conduct promising to adhere to the Chehalis canoe family’s mission statement and philosophy. We promise to promote the growth, healing and well being of our tribe through cultural experiences aimed at strengthening, preserving and rebuilding Native American values, beliefs and practices related to the canoe tradition.

Adhering to the mission statement and philosophy of the canoe journey promotes growth, healing and well-being of our tribe through cultural experiences. The goal is to strengthen, preserve, and rebuild Native American values, beliefs, and practices related to the canoe traditions and to promote Native family values.

Rules to Remember

Canoe journey participants agree to the following code of conduct:

  • Be kind and respectful to others. Compliment and help others, especially youth. Be positive with our actions and words. Refrain from use of negative talk, feelings, thoughts and complaining. Practice positive thoughts to carry the canoe in a good way.
  • Respect the canoe journey leaders, their advice and opinions, honor their age and wisdom.
  • Respect the works and actions of the skipper and support boat captains.
  • Participate in the activities – setting up and taking down camp, pulling the canoe, protocol and dancing.
  • Never refer to the canoe as the “B” word. Consequences for that will be to take a swim to apologize and bring honor back to the canoe.
  • The use of profanity will result in the offender to be required to perform 25 pushups. It’s a good lesson and gets you in shape for the following days pull.


Paddle to Swinomish


Originally published in our Chehalis Tribal Newsletter,
August 2011 which can be downloaded below.


The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation

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