Interest in Canoe Journey Grows – in Perugia, Italy

A cultural exchange between the Coast Salish peoples and those of Perugia, Italy centered around the Canoe Journey has revealed much in common.

Interest in the Canoe Journey, and how it has strengthened indigenous identity in the Northwest, is growing in the United States and abroad.

Indigenous people who have participated in the journey include Ainu from Japan, Inuit from Greenland, Maori from New Zealand, and Indigenous Peoples from Brazil and Mexico.

But interest in the journey is also growing in Europe – in Perugia, Italy. And in September, Marylin Bard – daughter of Canoe Journey founder Emmett Oliver – will travel to Perugia to give a presentation on the journey.


Most Perugians are of Etruscan ancestry and consider themselves to be Italy’s indigenous people. Greek historian Dionysius (60 B.C. to 7 B.C.) wrote of the Etruscans, “Indeed, those probably come nearest to the truth who declare that the [Etruscan] nation migrated from nowhere else, but was native to the country, since it is found to be a very ancient nation and to agree with no other either in its language or in its manner of living.”

Bard, a member of the Seattle-Perugia Sister City Association, has made several visits to Perugia and will return on September 4.

“They are so fascinated by Native American culture,” she said of Perugians. Her artist-brother Marvin Oliver’s large orca dorsal fin sculpture, “Sister Orca,” is displayed there. She even gets asked there about the status of the Duwamish Tribe’s federal-recognition efforts; her cousin, Cecile Hansen, is chairwoman of the Duwamish Tribe, and a mayor of Perugia has visited the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center.

Bard, Quinault/Isleta Pueblo, will be accompanied by Cindy Updegrave, a lecturer in American Indian Studies at the University of Washington. Updegrave’s partner, Eric Day, is a Swinomish canoe skipper.

Updegrave and Day visited Perugia in March 2016 to give a presentation on Ko-kwahl-alwoot, who saved her people from starvation by agreeing to marry a sea being who had threatened to remove the salmon and shellfish if she did not. Day and other Samish and Swinomish people are descendants of Ko-kwahl-alwoot.

“She’s part of our history, my family tree traces back to her,” Day said before the 2016 visit to Perugia. “She’s part of who Swinomish is and part of who I am.”

The late Samish culture-bearer Charlie Edwards’ story of Ko-kwahl-alwoot, recorded in 1938, is considered the most authoritative. His daughter-in-law, Laura Squi-qui Edwards, was influential in the placing of a 30-foot carved sculpture of Ko-kwahl-alwoot in 1983 at Deception Pass State Park, on Washington’s state’s Fidalgo Island, near the place where Ko-kwahl-alwoot sacrificed her human form to restore salmon runs for her people.

The Maiden of Deception Pass, a 27-minute documentary by Tracy Rector, Seminole, and Lou Karsen premiered at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, February 22-26, 2016, in Missoula, Montana, where it was a finalist for the Big Sky Award/Films About the American West.

The following month, Day and Updegrave traveled to Perugia to show the trailer for the film and help tell his ancestor’s story.

Perugia media reported on their visit here and here. And the visit is documented on Facebook. The Facebook page includes this video.

Bard said the cultural exchange is fueling the interest many Perugians have in their indigenous roots. The Etruscan and Coast Salish peoples have some things in common. Let’s go back to 500 BC.

According to various histories, Etruscans were organized politically and economically. They were a maritime people, and conducted trade throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Their lands were forested and rich in valued resources, such as copper and iron. Etruscan artists sculpted in stone, painted murals, created terracotta panels that adorned the entrances to buildings, and made opulent jewelry of gold and semi-precious stones.

According to various histories, Coast Salish peoples were also organized politically and economically at that time, with leadership entrusted to those who owned greater wealth and/or privileges, and kinship networks through which people had access to resources outside of their usual and accustomed areas. The Coast Salish conducted trade throughout the Salish Sea. Their lands were forested and the sea and rivers rich in finfish and shellfish. Coast Salish carvers and weavers created beautiful items for daily and ceremonial use: articles of clothing woven of cedar, wool and other fibers; baskets for gathering and bentwood boxes for storage; fishing nets woven from cedar and other fibers; carved house posts that told the story of the family that owned large multifamily longhouses; carved masks for use in ceremonies; and nearshore and seagoing canoes carved from whole logs.

Day reflected on his visit to Perugia in an article for Qyuuqs, the Swinomish Tribe’s news magazine.

On his first full day in Perugia, “I shared a canoe family song on the International Day of Water,” Day wrote. “I then attended a meeting with the mayor of Perugia, Andrea Romizi, where I spoke of Swinomish, the ‘Sister Orca’ by Marvin Oliver, and gifted him a replica of our Spirit of the Salmon canoe.”

Updegrave shared her Waterlines map, a map of the land and water of Seattle after the glaciers receded 15,000 to 20,000 years ago.

“On the second day, we visited a library dedicated to Native communities from Alaska to South America, and we looked at a copy of our Treaty of 1855,” Day wrote. “It took some searching, but I found the signatures of our Swinomish ancestors who signed this treaty.

“On the third day, I was asked to speak about the Swinomish people, so I told them a story that is a part of our history – the Maiden of Deception Pass, Ko-kwal-alwoot, and spoke of the Tribal Journey and how it has made me the man I am today.”

Day and Updegrave also visited Rome and had an audience with Pope Francis.

“I will never forget the structures that stood for thousands of years – the Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel. To see these places was very moving. But to be among people who respected our cultural ways, not out of envy [but] rather in indigenous solidarity, was the highpoint for me. The Etruscan people consider themselves the indigenous people of Italy. That is a memory I will hold in my heart for the rest of my life.”

He added, “It was a nice surprise to see Canoe Journey friends in Perugia.”