"The Canoe Journey is an important cultural event for tribes around the Pacific Northwest. The event shares native art, culture and
history as well as brings tribes together from around the region to celebrate their heritage and share songs, dance and food.
Conceived as the "Paddle to Seattle" in 1989 by Quinault Tribal Member Emmet Oliver and Frank Brown of Bella Bella, British
Columbia, the idea behind the first Canoe Journey was to paddle traditional cedar ocean-going dugout canoes from Northwest
coastal villages to the Port of Seattle in time for Washington State's Centennial Celebration.
The historic voyage caught the interest of other Washington and Canadian tribes as an opportunity to heighten interest in Native
American culture, art and history among both tribal members and the general public. In 1993, the first annual Canoe Journey was
held, with paddlers from Canada, Alaska and Washington voyaging from their home communities to Bella Bella, B.C. Since the
Paddle to Bella Bella there have been 20 Canoe Journeys." - www.washingtontribes.org
"The spiritual and cultural meaning of our traditional sea going canoe was reignited when the Heiltsuk Nation paddled their canoe
the “Glwa” from their village of Bella Bella 500 km to the Expo '86 in Vancouver, after three years of planning and carving the canoe.
This was the first expedition of its kind in this century for the Native people of the Northwest coast of North America.
Only three years later, in the summer of 1989, the “Glwa” participated in the “Paddle to Seattle” canoe gathering of Native
Americans of Washington State. While in Seattle, the Heiltsuk delegation invited all the tribes of the area and all Indigenous Maritime
Nations of the Northwest Coast and the Pacific Rim to paddle to Bella Bella for a special canoe gathering from June 27th to July 3rd,
Participation in this heroic journey to Bella Bella served as an important rite of passage for individual and tribal participants alike. It
re-affirmed our vitality as Maritime Indigenous Nations and the idea of “Tribal Journeys” was born. Tribal Journey has been
continued on a yearly basis ever since, with ever growing participation.
Being exposed to the forces of ocean and weather during the journey as our forefathers used to be, has inspired the crews of our
canoes. For over 20 years the Tribal Journeys have transformed thousands of our youth. It has helped them to reconnect to their
culture and heritage and has strengthened their confidence as contemporary First Nation people with a longstanding history.
On their voyage the pullers learn a lot about the traditional ecological knowledge, our environmental stewardship, about weather
and tides. But they also gain respect for the ocean and its power, and how to work together as a team building on individual
strengths. The physical training and exercise has improved the health of many youth as much as the mental challenge and the
accomplishment has been helping them to prepare themselves for their lives.
Today “Tribal Journeys” have become a cornerstone of our coastal First Nation's culture. The majority of the tribal groups of the
Pacific Northwest coastal First Nations participate in ocean going canoe activities and the numbers are still on the rise."
|TRIBAL CANOE JOURNEYS 2014 - QATUWAS FESTIVAL
|A little history and information about the event:
I first fell in love with the art of the Northwest Coast First Nations people about 15 or so years ago when I went to British Columbia for
my first time. It was a snowboarding trip to Whistler, but as I often do when I travel I seek out galleries to explore. I walked into a
gallery and saw a large framed print on the wall. It was a two finned killer whale by artist Robert Davidson (image below). I had never
been exposed to Northwest Coast Indian art before and I was instantly intrigued. What are all of the designs inside of it and what do
they mean? Why does this Killer Whale have 2 dorsal fins? I visited a few more galleries and was hooked. I returned home and
started to learn a little more about the art and about the cultures that produced it.
I've been on a lot of trips to a lot of places and have seen a lot of things, but spending so much time learning and developing a
connection with the art and the cultures of the First Nations people of Canada over the years since my first visit there meant that
this trip would be more of a 'journey' for me and I won't just see things; instead I'd get to experience them in ways differently than I
would have previously. I wanted to do this trip many years ago, but I think there's a reason I didn't do it until this year.
"Two Finned Killerwhale" by Robert Davidson
22" x 30" - 1979, 199 in the edition
This was the print that I fell in love with in the gallery in Whistler, BC
I discovered one in an auction this year and now it's hanging on my wall.
When I started planning my trip to British Columbia this year I met an artist from Seattle, Louie Gong, who was in Denver for an art
exhibition. I had a chance to talk to him one day and was telling him that I was planning a trip and he suggested that I plan it around
the Tribal Canoe Journey event that was held in the summer. He said it would be something that I wouldn't normally get to
experience. I looked into it and thought it looked fascinating so I started planning my trip around it. I also really wanted to go to
Haida Gwaii as well so I planned the first part of my trip to Bella Bella to go to Tribal Canoe Journey and the last part of my trip was
spent on the islands of Haida Gwaii.
I was traveling by myself and thought it would be more interesting for me if I could somehow volunteer for the Tribal Canoe Journey
event while I was there. I figured it would give me a better chance to meet people and interact with them in a way that would be
much different that being there as a tourist. One thing to note is that this event isn't an event geared towards tourists. It's a serious
even bringing a lot of the different Canadian First Nations cultures together in one place to share music, dance, food, pride and
community. There are a number of outsiders who go to the event, but they are generally involved with the communities in one way
or another or are there to volunteer. Going to an event that isn't geared towards tourists is a much different experience than going
to an event that you know was put on for outsiders.
The map above gives you an idea where Bella Bella and Haida Gwaii are geographically. You
can fly from Vancouver to Port Hardy and then from there to Bella Bella. I did that and then
took the ferry from Bella Bella to Prince Rupert and then a float plane from there to Haida
Gwaii. There were a couple of canoes that came from Haida Gwaii to Bella Bella, and there
were canoes that came up from Washington state as well. They were on the water for almost a
month to get there. Quite the journey.
Upon arriving at the small airport in Bella Bella I was pretty much adopted by a family there picking up a relative. They gave me a ride into town, took me
to the volunteer office to find out where I would be camping and then took me to the place where I was supposed to set up my tent. People in the town
offered their back yards to volunteers and to the various canoe teams and people traveling with the canoes. Elders from the different tribes who traveled
to be there were put up in people's homes. The community really pulled together to make it all happen. The normal population of Bella Bella is somewhere
around 1400 people, but there were an additional 2000-3000 people who came in for the event and there are no hotels. You would walk down the streets
and there were small tent communities set up everywhere. Not only did they make sure everyone had a place to stay or set up camp, they fed everyone, I
mean everyone, lunch and dinner every day. Food was sponsored and prepared by a different tribe every day, or every other day.
The work "Bella" is related to the words for beautiful in Italian and Latin, so a place called Bella Bella was sure to be beautiful. They say it was so pretty
they had to name it twice. It's true, the area surrounding Bella Bella is truly beautiful. Bella Bella, also known as Waglisla, is an unincorporated community
and Indian Reserve community located within Bella Bella Indian Reserve No. 1 on the east coast of Campbell Island in the Central Coast region of British
Columbia, Canada. It is home to the Heiltsuk First Nation.
The photos below are a selection of the over 1400 photos I took during my trip. I tried to select photos that captured the experience as good as I could,
but it's hard to capture the energy and pride the people gave off. It was a really humbling experience for me to be there for this event, something I'll
definitely never forget and something I'll hopefully get to experience again.
The morning that all of the canoes gathered together
they paraded in front of the people on shore and
displayed their tribe name on a canoe plaque. Quite a
few of the canoes had people in them wearing masks
and traditional regalia. The canoe journeys is geared
toward the youth of the culture to a large degree. It
shows them how their ancestors used to travel, and
taught them about working together and enduring long
journeys, as well as traditions and songs of the past.
The man in the grizzly regalia was one of the most
photographed people of the day. It was a hot day and
he wore that all day long.
The canoes started gathering in a line off the shore and the photo above was just the beginning line-up. Once all of the canoes were in
place there was a representative from each canoe that followed traditional protocol to ask the chief of the hosting tribe permission to come
ashore. While they didn't come ashore right away, each representative from each canoe gave a short talk about their journey and who was
in the canoe. They would often perform song and dance in the canoe as a part of this. It was a process that lasted a few hours but was
very interesting to experience.
I had planned to write a little more about the whole experience for me, but instead I'll let the photos do the talking...
|After the protocol was over, the canoes were docked and all of the paddlers came ashore and made a procession to the field where everyone gathered for
the protocol of dance and song that was presented by each tribe that was present. The photos below were mainly of the Haida people.
To the left is the Haida Heritage Centre and
museum on Haida Gwaii. A really fantastic place and
if you ever go to Haida Gwaii it's definitely worth
|Some photos taken on Haida Gwaii
|The birds in Bella Bella and Haida Gwaii were a lot of fun to photograph,
especially the Bald eagles.
"On July 13, thousands will see the end of an epic journey.
While that sounds like the start of a blockbuster movie, it’s not (but could be…). It’s a decades-old event that celebrates a timeless
tradition of Northwest Coast indigenous peoples.
The 2014 Canoe Journey/Paddle to Bella Bella will bring hundreds of canoes and thousands of people to the Heiltsuk Nation in
British Columbia. The procession of canoes and pullers move from host tribe to host tribe, asking permission to come ashore at
each stop. After a night of good food and hospitality, they carry on, arms pumping endlessly, gliding through the water to their next
destination. All of the canoes are expected to arrive in British Columbia on July 13 and will stay as guests of the Heiltsuk Nation until
This year’s Canoe Journey is significant because it represents the first time it has returned to Bella Bella since 1993, when Canoe
Journey became an annual celebration. The first journey — Paddle to Seattle — was in 1989 with only nine participating canoes,
one of which was from the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.
The Canoe Journey is an experience like few others. As PGST Canoe Skipper Laura Price was quoted in our history book, “The
“That thirteen-day canoe journey to Bella Bella (in 1993) changed my life. It opened the doorway for me being S’Klallam. The
experience helped build the foundation, passion and commitment in me to preserve, perpetuate, and celebrate our rich cultural
heritage for our present and future generations.
“I admire and deeply respect our ancestors who by their resiliency and strength we owe all this amazing rich culture to. Canoe
journeys happen every year now. They bring strength to our people by giving us a way to connect to our culture. We gain
confidence, pride, respect and identity. We know where we belong and are given an opportunity to learn and grow.”
Canoes are a prime connection between the old world and the new. In pre-treaty times, the type of multi-day and week trips that
seem so ambitious for the Canoe Journey were just a way of life. Tribes in this area used canoes to travel all over for trading, to
connect with family and friends, and to move with the seasons. They were experts of the water and the weather, understanding the
tides and currents.
Occasionally, white settlers would hire S’Klallams for this expertise. For example, Edwin Eells, an Indian agent at Skokomish, hired a
S’Klallam crew to take him through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It was winter and on the way back, they hit a fierce storm and, as
recounted in “The Strong People,” “Ells was sure he would perish. The S’Klallams, he reported, kept up a wild chant as they
maneuvered the canoe skillfully through the storm, and guided him to safe water. He was very grateful, for he was sure he was
going to die that day.”
While canoes are no longer a main source of transportation, they still play an important role in the celebration of our culture. Canoe
Journey is a reflection of this." - http://www.kingstoncommunitynews.com/community/265398711.html (by JEROMY SULLIVAN,
Kingston Community News Columnist)
The “Ten Rules of the Canoe.” by Jeromy Sullivan
They show how canoeing can reflect the principles of life:
1.) Every stroke we take is one less we have to make. Keep going!
2.) There is to be no abuse of self or others. Respect and trust cannot exist in anger. It has to be thrown overboard, so the sea can cleanse it.
3.) Be flexible. The adaptable animal survives.
4.) The gift of each enriches us all. Every story is important. The bow, the stern, the skipper, the power puller in the middle — everyone is part of the
5.) We all pull and support each other. Nothing occurs in isolation.
6.) A hungry person has no charity. Always nourish yourself. The bitter person, thinking that sacrifice means self-destruction, shares mostly anger.
7.) Experiences are not enhanced through criticism. Who we are, how we are, what we do, why we continue flourish with tolerance.
8.) The journey is what we enjoy. Being part of the journey requires great preparation; being done with a journey requires great awareness; being on the
journey, we are much more than ourselves.
9.) A good teacher allows the students to learn. We can berate each other, try to force each other to understand, or we can allow each paddler to gain
awareness through the ongoing journey.
10.) When given any choice at all, be a worker bee — make honey!
— Jeromy Sullivan is chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.
|The canoe called "Many Hands" designed by artist Roy Henry Vickers
|On my trip to Bella Bella BC to see Tribal Canoe Journeys one of the most visually interesting things to me, besides the paddles, were the "button
blankets" various people were wearing. There was a wide diversity of styles with different crests on the back and I found them all incredibly interesting. I'd
seen an example in the Denver Art Museum but I'd never really been exposed to them other than in that setting and I didn't know anything about them.
I tried to find a paddle to buy and bring home while I was in Haida Gwaii, but had no luck. Upon returning home I continued the search, but instead of
finding a paddle I located a really great button blanket to buy which is shown below.
"A button blanket is wool wearing blanket embellished with mother-of-pearl buttons, created by
Northwest Coastal tribes.
Rather than sleeping equipment, the blankets are used as capes and gifts at ceremonial dances and
The blankets were originally acquired from the Hudson's Bay Company traders during the mid-19th
century. The trade blankets were typically dark blue duffle and decorated with buttons made from
abalone or dentalium shells. The central crest typically portrayed a symbol of the wearer's family
The blankets usually have a red border on the upper and lateral edges. A central crest figure is created
from the buttons and red flannel appliqué. Button blankets are worn over the shoulders and the crest
design hangs on the back of the wearer.
Among the tribes who make button blankets, they are not hung from walls, except at funerals or near the
graves of chiefs."
58" x 59"
by Haida artist Ron Larochelle
ex private US collection
The crest on the back depicts a raven-finned killer whale (in a circular pattern with nose to tail) with a
shaman (?) and a raven head in its mouth (possibly depicting a transformation) with a frog that makes
up most of the rest of its body. The side flipper extends into the middle of the blanket and the tail of the
killer whale reaches around and joins the mouth. The sides of the button blanket have ravens and
wolves on each side.
Once the canoe stops, the protocol is for all of the
paddlers to pull their paddles from the water and display
them vertically as shown on the right.
|The trip to Bella Bella and Haida Gwaii was a birthday present to
myself this year. I shared a few photos on Facebook while I was there
and my friend Sharon Mathieu saw the photos of the canoes and was
so taken by them she drew me this birthday card for my birthday.
(Above) The paddles from the Many Hands canoe at rest.
(Right) This is a photo from one of the Haida canoes. The person standing in
the front of the canoe with the white (amazing) button blanket and other
regalia was surely someone of importance within the Haida culture.
The woman shown above was one of the hereditary chiefs of her tribe.
Some of the canoes had evergreen wreaths on the front of them. This
meant that they had been blessed in a ceremony for safe travel on the