ROCHE HARBOR, Wash. - As Wray-Wray James pulled with the cedar paddle
carved by her grandfather for her first canoe journey, the significance of
the event was not lost on her.
The 12-year-old paddler was in one of four canoes headed from Lopez Island
to San Juan Island, her ancestral home. With her were paddlers from the
Lummi, Samish and Swinomish Indian nations. Some paddlers prayed, some
"We are all family," she said. And at 3:30 p.m. July 28, they returned to
their ancestral home on San Juan Island.
"This is how your ancestors lived years ago. This is what they did. This is
where they lived, on the land all around you," said Swinomish elder Chester
Cayou, who formally welcomed the canoes to the beach at San Juan Island's
"You are coming home."
The paddlers were participants in Canoe Journey 2004, an annual goodwill
journey. Native paddlers start at their homes in coastal Washington and
British Columbia and paddle to a host nation, with stops along the way.
This year's journey ended in Chemainus, B.C., where paddlers from all over
the Puget Sound region were hosted by the Chemainus First Nation.
Islanders and tourists gathered on the beach at Roche Harbor to watch the
arrival ceremony. For all, it was a homecoming. San Juan Island was the
traditional fishing, hunting, trading and gathering place for the Lummi,
Saanich, Samish, Semiahmoo, Songhees, Sooke and Swinomish.
Cayou and Lummi elders James and Lootie Hillaire sang and beat drums as the
canoes approached. The canoes circled in the harbor to get into position,
then landed one by one.
Each canoe skipper stood, greeted the elders and asked in his language for
permission to visit the island. Cayou responded in his language and
translated in English.
The paddlers then disembarked and joined family members, friends, islanders
and visitors for a community-sponsored potluck. The evening was filled with
song, dance and storytelling. Canoe Journey families camped on Roche
Harbor's expansive lawn overlooking the beach.
The Canoe Journey reminds paddlers of the relationship between water, land
and people. They honor their ancestors by traveling as their ancestors did,
retracing ancestral paths on ancestral waters. The physical, mental and
spiritual challenges remind paddlers of the importance of healthy,
Wray-Wray James, who paddled in the Samish canoe, said she avoids junk food
and paddles Monday through Thursday, 4 - 6 p.m., during the summer.
Samish paddler Ethan Matthews, 13, said the journey from Lopez Island to
Roche Harbor was "long and torturous." But he enjoyed it. "I like to do
stuff that is physical, except for chores. This was too much fun to be a
chore." He hopes to someday skipper a canoe.
Bobby Andy, 21, Bella Coola from British Columbia, was invited to paddle
with the Samish; it was the first time he had met people from the Lummi,
Samish and Swinomish nations.
Although he has carved a 22-foot canoe, this was his first canoe journey.
"One of my older cousins asked me if I wanted to participate to heal my
spirit," he said.
Samish canoe skipper Lewis James, 30, said being on the water is a
spiritual experience. "Songs come to you. That's how we get our songs," he
The journey, which can take two weeks, is healing in its physical and
"It requires hard work and endurance not required for daily life back home
in the real world,"' Ben and Sue Charles, Lower Elwha Klallam, wrote of a
previous Canoe Journey in "The Healing Journey of the Canoe."
They wrote that the journey starts with prayer "that each and every
participant will know the healing that can come by relying on the Creator
as our source of power and help. For it is the Creator who made us."
James Hillaire said paddlers learn self-discipline, respect and healthy
living. Smoke a cigarette - anytime, anywhere - and you're off the crew.
"I insist on sobriety, being respectful - especially toward elders - and
respecting others' beliefs," Hillaire said. "By showing respect, they earn
respect from elders."
The journey also connects paddlers with their past.
"It helps bridge the gap between the time when our history and culture were
not valued by others - and thus were not valued by ourselves - to a time
when we are valuing our history and culture and, thus, others are too,"
said Leslie Eastwood, Samish's cultural affairs director.
"It's the past and the future paddling together. That's why the theme is
'Paddling With Our Ancestors.'"
Cayou told of working at Roche Harbor Lime Works in the 1930s and said
Saanich and Songhees lived on a hill where some resort condominiums are
"Many of these young people have never been out here before," Cayou said.
"This is where their ancestors started. They are waking up the community
that this was their home."
Hillaire added, "We enjoy returning to our homeland where our ancestors
once roamed. Our ancestors roamed all over to different gathering places.
They knew the tides, the wind, when to gather. We are retracing their
Brent Snow, general manager of Roche Harbor Village, said he was honored
that Lummi, Samish and Swinomish chose to stay at Roche Harbor. "This is an
ancestral location," he said. "This gives them a chance to use the beaches
that their ancestors used many years ago."
Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash.
Contact him at (360) 378-6289 or e-mail email@example.com.