During these times of social unrest and political divisiveness around the world and in our own country, there is something that is so much more powerful among us and it showed itself on July 28 at Owen Beach. That something is the blessing of family and it was made real in each and every indigenous soul that stood on the beach shore that day for the arrival of the Puyallup leg of the 2016 Paddle to Nisqually.
“That’s exactly what we’re all about – drug and alcohol prevention, being violence free and protecting our children,” said Puyallup Canoe Family Captain Connie McCloud. “Our bottom line is we want our children and our families to be safe.”
To mark the importance of this historic event, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a special proclamation declaring July 30 through Aug. 6 as “Paddle to Nisqually Week.” He also visited the journey as it made its way through Nisqually.
With the theme “Don’t Forget the Water,” the 2016 Paddle to Nisqually brought the tribal people back to the heart of their culture and strength. As canoe after canoe arrived throughout that hot summer Friday afternoon – nearly 90 in all – the 2016 Paddle to Nisqually provided the medicine so needed in these troubling times, as its heartbeat is love and unity as it has been from time immemorial. This was proven in the incredible show of support for Jackie Salyers, the young Puyallup woman, and her unborn baby, killed by police six months ago to the date of July 28. Every puller in so many canoes wore “Justice for Jackie” T-shirts that it was indeed a touching sight to see. Native lives matter and Jackie matters was the message and it came through loud and clear.
McCloud said the call for justice also includes murdered and missing women in Canada and the United States, with many Canoe Journey skippers adopting the justice call with their crew during the journey.
“There really was an overwhelming response to wear the T-shirts and a lot of support, including offering financial support to the Justice for Jackie committee,” she said.
As each canoe reached shore, a designated puller asked for permission to land. They were tired. They were hungry. And the temperature was baking at a peak of summertime glory.
“Welcome to the waters and lands of the Puyallup Tribe,” said Puyallup Tribal Council Member Sylvia Miller. “We are honored that you are here today. We know you have traveled a long, hard journey and we would like to welcome you to the shores to join in the festivities that we have prepared for you and hope you have a very good time. Come ashore!”
After landing and carrying the canoes to dry land to rest for the night, everyone headed to the Chief Leschi Schools campus, the host site for this leg of the Canoe Journey. With canoes having traveled from as far north as Alaska, as far south as Hawaii and as far east as New York, the school grounds were transformed into a temporary village for the night with tents as far as the eye could see.
Later that night, a special ceremony was held for tribal veterans of the U.S. military and the Fish Wars of the late ‘60s. Gifted with songs, applause and affection, the veterans were celebrated in keeping with the Canoe Journey weekend of giving thanks.
“We want to share our gratitude and our love and appreciation for everything you have done for our people,” said Puyallup Canoe Journey Event Coordinator Clinton McCloud. “A lot of you guys set the groundwork to have all of this right here and if it wasn’t for our older people, our grandmothers, our grandfathers and our loved ones that have gone on before us, we would not be able to have a day where we can have all of our indigenous people come with their canoes, their songs, their medicine and their prayers.” The crowd’s cheers and applause backed up everything Clinton said.
An outdoor jam session followed, with drumming, dancing and whooping it up into the night.
The next day, the journeyers packed up and headed out for Nisqually for a full weekend of festivities, sharing and celebrating Coast Salish culture and history. On Sunday, July 31, a Medicine Creek Treaty ceremony was held at the Billy Frank, Jr. National Wildlife Refuge in Nisqually. The crowd that gathered there for this blessing for Medicine Creek Treaty tribes heard inspiring words from many tribal leaders and elders of the Medicine Creek Treaty Tribes, and Congressman Denny Heck was there as well to share his thoughts.
Council Member Reynon said he was honored to be present for the ceremony and to watch the canoes navigate the waters of Medicine Creek as they had 162 years ago on their way to sign the treaty that bears the name of the waterway they traveled on.
“I couldn't help but feel the presence of our ancestors and feel the weight of the responsibility to carry on the legacy they left us of protecting our sovereignty, our members, our resources, and our rights,” he said. “I'm just so very thankful for the opportunity to gain a greater connection to our ancestral leaders who paved the way for us to govern ourselves even to this day.”