For at least 8,000 years before Euro-Americans arrived, there flourished on the western shores of the North American continent a people and a culture highlighted by the omnipresent and hallowed dugout canoe. It was an economic necesssity like a railroad or highway and also provided recreation which persists today in the sport of racing.
In 1985 our good friend Emmett Oliver, a Quinault, a prominent educator and retired Coast Guard commander, conceived the idea of bringing Native canoes to the shores of the Puget sound to celebrate the centennial of the State of Washington in 1989. Emmett was at that time Supervisor of Indian Education for the State, and felt that the endeavor would bring pride to the native people of the state and renew the tradition of the importance of the canoe . Initially in the first year, 13 tribes were interested, which grew to 18 canoes. Canoes were to come from Washington and Canada to Suquamish. The flotilla of Native canoes would then make a seven-mile journey to the shores at Shilshole Bay.
In 1985 dugout canoes were almost a lost art in the Pacific Northwest, found mostly in museums. The idea was to have the tribes carve their own canoes, assemble at a rendezvous, and paddle across Puget Sound to Seattle. They would camp in the park, and spend 2 days canoe racing on the sound and enjoying time together celebrating cherished features of Norhwest Coast culture. Permits for trees were granted by the state, trees were transported and the actual work began in 1987. Some had not carved a canoe for over 50 years, and some tribes had never done so. Carving workshops were formed and finally, framed by the rising skyline of the city, 18 canoes were ready to paddle across the sound. With Emmett aboard a Coast Guard command vessel, and with 5,000 people ready to greet them, Paddle to Seattle was accomplished on July 21, 1989. A roar of encouragement arose from the beach in a great surge of pride for the carvers, the canoes, and the paddlers who performed as though they had manned those canoes lifelong. their shoulders bore the traditions of 8 millenia.
Last month, on July 25, 22 years after the first Paddle, 89 canoes arrived to be greeted and invited ashore by the Duwamish tribal representatives. Marvin Oliver, son of Emmett and Georgia, is a well known artist and professor of Art at the University of Washington. An Oliver Family honoring canoe was built to honor Emmett for this year’s Canoe Journey. These family members make up the Quinault, Lummi and Duwamish. The canoe was flying the Quinault flag, and family members were pulling, including 2 granddaughters of the 97 year old Elder., who were with him at age 9 as he greeted canoes 22 years ago.
The theme of the Oliver Canoe Family is “Homeward Bound” and all art was done by Marvin Oliver, which this year had a bright green and red salmon on the front and an eagle on the back. Daughter Marylin Bard, is the Chair of the Family and organizer of the funderaising.
“The survival of the Indian people is knowing who you are and where you came from.” James Rasmussen of the Duwamish tribe! Isn’t it true of all of us?
“Love many, trust few, and learn to paddle your own canoe.”
Christina and Lisa