Five days of inter-tribal festivities wrapped up over the weekend as the 2019 Paddle to Lummi came to an end. This year, nearly 100 canoes made their way to the shores of the Lummi Nation’s Stommish Grounds near Bellingham, for a celebration of unity and common causes.
Each canoe was paddled by a tribal family – and they came from as far as Hawaii, Alaska, New York and even Papua New Guinea. Council member Freddie Lane estimates about 60 different tribes were represented. A group from Alaska camped out in his front yard.
“It’s just amazing to see all the canoes that came from three different directions,” Lane said, expressing his admiration particularly for the tribes who paddled all the way from the west coast of Vancouver Island.
“They were on the water for 24 days and got here July 24 – to honor the invitation… to honor one another and to bring our communities together,” he said, adding that there are five words to explain what this intertribal gathering is all about.
“We host canoe journey here at Lummi in ‘hope, healing, honor, happiness and hospitality,’” he said.
Simple black and white signs bearing those words were taped up on the walls inside a community center, where meals, snacks and beverages were served, free of charge.
For five days, the families took turns sharing songs, dances and stories inside a longhouse. On Saturday afternoon, hundreds of guests filled seating around a central performance area. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, tiny children, toddlers and teens watched. Some milled about distractedly, some seemed rapt – singing or chanting along.
PADDLING TOGETHER FOR CONNECTION
Among the paddlers attending was Jason Gomez, who said he had filled the fifth seat (“the powerhouse”) in a traditional dugout canoe that made the journey here from the Port Gamble S'klallam Tribe.
He says when you’re in the boat, it’s all about connection and working together.
“Because there were a couple of days out there where it got pretty rough on the water," Gomez said. "And we have to keep pulling – no matter what – we’ve got to keep pulling."
And when they pull together and connect, he says the canoes lift and start to rise out of the water.
"It’s an amazing experience. It’s too hard to explain, but it’s like everything lifts away…when everyone’s in tune and pulling and singing," he said. "And when we get tired, we start singing because every song is a prayer, every pull is a prayer."
One canoe Gomez paddled in was one of just seven originals from the first Paddle to Seattle 30 years ago. His tribe brought it to the Lummi grounds on a trailer.
Canoe Journey 2020 will be to Nanaimo, British Columbia, where the Snuneymuxw First Nation will be hosting on the shores of Vancouver Island.