The Paddle to Seattle in 1989 was coordinated by our good friend Emmett Oliver (1913-2016) a member of the Quinalt Nation, retired Coast Guard commander, and educator, was serving on one of the State of Washington’s centennial committees. Tall ships would be participating in the celebration, and Oliver felt the state’s indigenous population was being ignored.

The high profile return of Coast Salish canoes to ancestral waters was a shot in the arm to Native cultures. A new generation of canoe carvers emerged. Young ones began learning their Native language. Elders who as children were punished for speaking their language, began teaching their dances, songs and stories.

Then, in 1993, in response to an invitation issued during the Paddle to Seattle, canoes traveled to Heiltsuk First Nation in Bella Bella, British Columbia, and the Tribal canoe Journey was born.

Villages long separated were once more connected by Native pride. Once more Arts and Culture were exchanged.

Emmett Oliver is gone, but his legacy burns on in his descendants. Son Marvin Oliver, professor of Art at the University of Washington, and daughter Marilyn Bard, are involved in the Journey, even the youngest grandchildren, too young to be pullers are learning their heritage. In the water, in their canoes, as they are traveling the highways of their ancestors, they cannot help but feel the powerful connection to their people’s lifeways, and for the connection to the other tribal territories they now visit.

PADDLE TO QUINAULT 2013 (Honoring Our Warriors)

“Emmett Oliver” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Back in 1989, Emmett Oliver, a Quinault tribal elder from Washington State, organized the “Paddle to Seattle” as a part of Washington State Centennial celebration, revitalizing a tradition which was lost for many years, which is canoeing. We know this now as the Canoe Journey, and it has become a symbol of cultural revitalization on a national level; we can expect 90 U.S. tribes, Canadian First Nations, and New Zealand to join the celebration.

This is Emmett’s centennial year as he will turn 100 in December. His daughter, Marylin Bard, as she has done the past two Journeys, will be pulling in the Oliver canoe. Marylin is the Seattle delegate to sister city Perogia, Italy. His son, Marvin Oliver, professor of art at the University of Washington, is well-known for his monumental public art pieces and colorful North Coast prints. He recently installed a large whale’s tale in the city of Perugia. Much of his art can be seen in the beautiful parks in Seattle, and he is always a contributor to the artwork on the canoes of the Journey each year. This blog will be a reprint of a letter Marylin wrote me describing one day’s journey this year.

marvin Oiver
Marvin Oliver

The following is Marylin’s letter written at the end of a long hot day’s paddle:

Thursday, July 25, 8:52 AM

“I left last Friday from Golden Gardens, Seattle, to Suquamish, 10 miles. I decided when I saw all the pullers for the Oliver canoe to pull with the Duwamish canoe, the Raven. They only had 4 pullers and one skipper. I made up the 5th puller, all young guys around 16 to 24 years of age. All Duwamish. The skipper was around 40, from the Tulalip tribe, but his aunt is the chair of the Duwamish, Cecile Hansen, my cousin.

So off we went. Easy pull, got there, went to shore, took a bus back to Kingston, 15 minutes, and took a shower and Dave (her husband) drove us back for big salmon dinner and camping overnight since we had to leave between 5 and 6 a.m. for Port Gamble, which I thought was only 14 miles around Point No Point, but turned out to be more like 30 miles. Five pullers, including myself, one skipper, NO relief pullers, and our support boat was a sailboat to assist both canoes. The other canoe took off and we were left with no support, and radio did not work; but on we went; Determined Duwamish. Now seven of us, all guys except me, Elder Woman, but fit and more like 40 years! Took us six hours to get there, and it was HOT. We also took on the currents around the bluff and it was exciting.

Stopped at a beach to take a break and eat then off again. When we got there I rode home and washed my clothes, took shower then went back to site to camp. Tomorrow I will pay a young paddler $1 to blow up my air mattress! Next day we were off again for Port Townsend, when we had to pull through a channel of strong currents, but we pulled hard and made it through; and we were the last canoe to make it through the currents. Proud Determined Duwamish, we wanted to stop at a nice looking beach and take a lunch break but ran into a big sign NAVY PROPERTYNO LANDING OF BOATS> So we saw another nice looking beach a little ways further and landed there. There it was again: another sign NAVY PROPERTY<KEEP OFF. We pulled hard, so as not to be caught!

When we passed some fishermen with fishing poles we asked them if they had caught any fish, and I patted our ice chest “Right here,” And we did. LOL


As our adventure continued, we picked up more pullers for the Raven Canoe. Sometimes we stayed with the Oliver canoe, but they were faster since they had relief pullers, and our canoe was a dug out from 1989 Paddle to Seattle, and rocky, tippy, and with the sailboat always ahead of us.

After we went through some fog one morning, we made our way to Jamestown North. We were the first three canoes, one was Quinault. The next day we took off for Port Townsend, more fog in the morning. Canoes tried to stay together since we seemed to be lost. (Indians in canoes, lost! Not often.)

Then we found our way with the sailboat leading us, and made it to Port Townsend. That was when nine Canadian pullers went over and had to be taken back to John Wayne Marina (my story might be mixed right now as to places of landing), but it was when we left Jamestown to head to Port Angeles that we hit FOG, huge waves, rough water, and our sailboat could not locate us. Kept saying they were on their way. We only had a radio by that time.

The Oliver canoe asked to be towed, we also said we wanted a tow, but at this time, we were lost in fog, with currents, and waves getting bigger.

We thought we should turn left in the water to turn to shore, or what we thought was shore. Then we saw a canoe coming fast. It was a Quinault canoe, so we sang, we blew our whistles, we chanted and waved our paddles. They saw us and guided us out the other direction until we saw a huge support boat, towing the Oliver canoe. They weren’t sure who we were but we wanted on board. Luckily for me, I was spotted as Emmett Oliver’s daughter. “Come aboard!” One young puller sitting next to me was Cecile Hansen’s grandson, turned to me and said “I thought we would die!”

We were safe. The sailboat found us and towed the Raven and took some Duwamish pullers with Oliver relief pullers on board. We and the Oliver canoe were towed back to the John Wayne Marina back in Jamestown, Squim..

Another support boat was pulling in with 6 pullers who had gone over in the water by three big waves. Another support boat picked them up in two minutes. All safe and sound.

I am in Port Angeles at a friend’s house, after warm bath, clean dry clothes and even went for manicure, pedicure. But of course I dropped my cell phone in water. Both canoes will be trailered to next spot today. I am still here. Thinking about going back to Kingston or getting the next spot to come ashore with the Raven at the end of Journey.

Taking my Dad by car to the landing of all the canoes on August 1 at Taholah. Hope no other canoes will go over, but this is the ocean.

Owen, age 14, Marvin’s son, is on a canoe going down the Columbia River and into the ocean to Ocean Shores to arrive on August 31.

So the adventure continues.”

She also sent the news release regarding the nine Canadian paddlers who were washed overboard. Fortunately one had a cell phone which they used while in the water, and a helicopter was sent to the rescue.

When I think of paddling a canoe, I get the picture of a warm summer afternoon, gliding softly through calm beautiful water, and perhaps drifting into a grassy bank to lift out your picnic basket, filled with delectable goodies and a perfectly chilled bottle of bubbly. Much as I love the Journey, I don’t think I will be volunteering as a puller. I will stand on the shore cheering each colorful canoe with its exubarent and exhausted crew and know that they have braved FOG, huge waves, cold water, to continue Emmett Oliver’s dream.


emmett canoe journey

canoe dourney 1 Many artists have contributed artwork towards advertising the Journeys. This mural was painted by a young Fremont artist, Kevin Bouton.

canoe 6

canoe 7

canoe 2