Saturday, September 17, 2005

Canoe Journey to Tse Whitzen

It's been over for a month and a half now. The canoes and cameras are gone. We fed all the people. That was my big worry. People from town volunteered. They helped make gifts for the giveaway. They cooked and served meals. We wouldn't have been able to pull this off without the help of the People of Port Angeles.

This was the best thing for overcoming the wounds of racism. The town people got to know us a little better. We're not as scary as they thought in the light of knowledge.

Jim Casey did a great job covering the event for the Peninsula Daily News. He also edited a special edition on the Journey. The copies went fast and I missed it.

The Journeys are alcohol and drug free. Many get to hear the Spiritual teachings for the first time. We hear of a lot of youth who are getting into trouble for drinking and drugging by the age of nine years old. They are lost with no direction. Tribal politicians are more concerned with making money.

Young people paddled for 200 miles or more simply to represent their Tribe. Most did it without pay. The only compensation was honor and the gratitude of Elders who could no longer make the journey.

The sight of your Tribe's canoe coming ashore will bring the hardest heart to tears. The wind acted up and interfered with the protocol. The Coast Guard issued an order that no canoes would be allowed on the water. Some Tribes waited until the Coast Guard left, then launched. Some trailered their canoes to Port Angeles then joined the Native Armada asking permission to enter our territory.

Alaskan Natives brought their sealskin canoes. One young man circled the harbor as each canoe formally requested permission to land. He would pick up cedar hats that were blown off by the wind. He would ask the Elders which canoe lost the item. Each time he was told that he should make the person dance to get it back. He was too soft-hearted to do that. He returned each item to the owner.

Canoe landings are always emotional. Chief Dan George's words "My heart soars like a hawk." are the only words fit to describe your feelings.

This year there was a canoe full of young people that battled their way from Vancouver Island across the stormy 18 miles of The Straits of Juan De Fuca. I believe they were the last to come in. An Elder man said quietly, "Look how young they are." The captain was 15 years old. His crew ranged in age from 9 years old to 16 years old. They came alone, no adults, no support boat in case they got in trouble, no money. I don't know their names, but I will never forget them. For me, they represent the hope for our future.

The funny times is always when people are made to dance to get back personal belongings they had lost. A "princess crown" had been found. The MC held it up so everyone could see it. He asked the owner to come forward to dance for it. She had already gone home. Her cousin vounteered to dance. She was a pretty little girl of about 11 or 12. She was a good dancer, the crowd cheered when she entered the floor. When she was done one of the adults in her group called her back on the floor. She said that this was the second time this girl had danced. She had started getting into trouble and came on The Journey to straighten her life out. Another "princess crown" was found. That owner had also left. Three of her cousins danced to get back her beauty crown. What touched me was that these young people had a sense of committment to friends and family. They are TRIBAL!

The Makah had volunteered to sing for those who had to dance. One young man who sang with them was from Ahousat on the west coast of Vancouver Island. They are whalers on the Pacific Ocean.

This young man spoke of his efforts to become clean and sober. He said he had been lost for a long time and came on The Journey to find himself. He said he was going to make himself dance to get himself back.

He went out on the dance floor. Some young women started dancing on the side to support him. The floor exploded with men dancing to find themselves. You could see that some of them belonged to the secret societies. They danced as if they were in full regalia with magnificent carved wolf masks on their heads. They wore the every day costume of modern Indians, jeans or shorts and t-shirts.

Women joined them on the floor. It was a proclamation that we are still here. We may be wounded, but we are healing. We have survived the guns, reservations, boarding schools, public schools, termination, alcohol and drugs.

There are always tears on the journeys. They come from deep within, of pride and pain, sorrow and joy, and release. Our greatest hurts have come from learned behavior. Our teachings say children are sacred. They were sent to the catholic boarding schools that did not believe that our children are sacred. They were physically, sexually, emotionally, and mentally abused. They were sent home to plant those seeds of destruction in our communities.

The Creator has given us a great gift. We have the opportunity to heal ourselves. To get back to our roots. The canoe teaches us to pull together. We need each other to reach our goal. The cedar tree knowingly gives it's life to become our canoe. It's bark makes our hats and ceremonial gear. We have remembered that We are One.

The Canoe Journey's are a simple act. It was born of The People not federal bureaucrats. We are finding ourselves like those dancers who danced for all of us. Our future is with those kids who climbed into a canoe and paddled into the storm. We have won with those young girls who accepted responsibility and danced for a cousin who couldn't do it.

There were canoes that couldn't make it because of deaths in their communities. We had heard that a Great Lakes Tribe was coming. The Maoris and Hawaiians didn't make it either. The price of gas was high, yet people came.

It has been a hard time for the Elwha. We cried for our ancestors that were desecrated by the mill, the town and the state. We picked up the broken shards of their skeletons. Our young people worked in the cold of winter, up to their knees in mud. They were broiled in the summer sun.

We endured the anger and racism of the town when we stopped the construction. We have over 300 intact remains of our ancestors that need to be reburied. We have uncountable bits and pieces of remains that will never be put back together.

The words, songs and dances of our guests picked up our tears and helped relieve our burdens. Prayers are still needed, to soften the hearts of the politicians, both Tribal and state.

It was an honor to host all the canoes. We will tell the stories forever.


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