Canoe Journeys

Photo by Brenda Francis-Thomas of a canoe leaving Pillar Point on their way to Hollywood Beach, their final destination being the Paddle to Swinomish in 2011. For permission to use please use the Contact Us box.

The modern canoe journeys began with the Paddle to Seattle in 1989 as part of the Washington State Centennial celebration. The canoe journeys have sparked a revival of the canoe culture and have become a popular annual event for inter-tribal celebration.


Historical Canoe Culture

Canoe travel was a significant part of the culture of the Pacific Northwest tribes. Tribes used canoes to hunt and fish, but also to visit other communities to trade and share knowledge between groups. In fact, the coastal tribes traveled so frequently between villages that they had created a highly developed code of hospitality. For example, the travelers would stop in the water just off a foreign beach, raise their paddles up to signify peaceful intent, call a greeting to the local tribe, and ask the tribe for permission to land on their beach. In turn, the host tribe had certain designated responses that invited the travelers ashore where they would be provided with food and shelter. (In the modern canoe journeys, this code of hospitality has been revived and has served as an opportunity to use traditional languages, such as Klallam.) When Europeans began exploring the region, the tribes were used to meeting and welcoming strangers who arrived by boat. Sadly, the Europeans did not understand the hospitality culture of the coastal tribes and as the tribes were displaced over the next two centuries, the rich canoe culture was lost. 

This year the Quinaultt Tribe is hosting the canoe journeys. Canoe will land in Taholah, Washington on Tuesday, August 1, 2013. The potlatch will  go from August 1st through 6, 2012.

This is the second time Quinault has hosted Tribal Journeys, the first time being in 2001.

Paddle to Seattle

In 1989, Washington State was celebrating its Centennial. As part of this celebration, the tribes and the state signed the Centennial Accord, which recognized the sovereignty of the tribes (Cultural Advisory Committee 2003). The tribes decided to commemorate their history by hosting a traditional canoe journey called the Paddle to Seattle.

Many of the canoes began the journey to Seattle from La Push, Washington, while others started from their tribal homes. The journey lasted several days and involved stops at traditional villages along the way. The Paddle to Seattle was an unqualified success, and an inter-tribal canoe journey now takes place every summer with a different tribe acting as the host.

Revival of the Canoe Culture

Nine canoes and fifteen tribes participated in the Paddle to Seattle. This annual event has gained significant popularity over the years, and recent events have had over 70 canoes participating. The event has also attracted an ever-widening group of participating tribes. Recently, tribes as far north as Alaska have joined the event. The canoe journeys offer a unique opportunity for tribal members to participate in a cross-generation activity that also spans tribes. Once the canoe journey is complete, the tribes gather for a potlatch to welcome the travelers and celebrate. The celebrations usually last for several days. 

As the canoes pull towards the shore, helpers wade into the water to help bring the canoes up on the beach.
The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe has various canoes including The Elwha Lightning, the Spirit of Elwha, and the Beautiful Sister.
The video below is the Elwha Lightning which is commonly used as our youth canoe, because it is the lightest canoe.