Natasha Brennan
McClatchy Northwest
nbrennan@mcclatchy.com

Seattle’s newest waterfront attraction is a Native-owned, Native-designed voyage offering a narrated tour sharing the history of the city and its Indigenous people. Salish Sea Tours, located at Miner’s Landing on Pier 57, opened to the public on June 25.

Various Native artists and leaders were involved in the creation of the company’s two 93-foot catamarans and its hour-long narrated tour of Elliott Bay. Owner Kyle Griffith, an enrolled member of the Chinook Indian Nation, said the tour is a tangible representation of tribes coming together.

The Chinook Indian Nation, located less than 100 miles southwest of Olympia, and the Duwamish Tribe, native to the Seattle area, are not federally recognized. Griffith hopes the tour will bring attention to the tribes’ fight for recognition.

“It’s not just a tour, it’s about being seen. This is the first tour in the city of Seattle that mentions the name of the Duwamish,” Jolene Haas, director of the Duwamish Longhouse, said at the tour’s maiden voyage and launch party Thursday afternoon, June 24.

The event was held at the end of the pier, attended by Griffith’s friends and family and Duwamish tribal members and leaders. It included a canoe blessing by Tlingit dancers and drummers, food and live music. Attendees had the chance to board and tour on Orca One, one of the two catamarans featuring stadium seating on the bow and two full-service bars.

Salish Sea Tours owner Kyle Griffith, an enrolled member of the Chinook Indian Nation, rides on the tour’s catamaran Orca One during one of its first voyages Thursday, June 24, 2021, from Miner’s Landing on the Seattle waterfront. The Elliot Bay tour’s narration shares the history of the city and its Indigenous people. Griffith said the tour is a tangible representation of tribes coming together. (Photo by The Bellingham Herald)

The Duwamish tribe presented Griffith with a beaded medallion and the Tlingit members, Griffith’s parents and the artists with traditional blankets. Skokomish artist John Edward Smith, who created the boats’ black-and-red whale designs and company logo, presented Griffith’s parents with hand-carved canoe paddles. The paddles match a carved canoe Smith created to match the boats.

In addition to Smith’s exterior designs, hand-carved pieces by the Henderson family — a group of traditional carvers in British Columbia, Canada — decorate the interior. The historical part of the tour is narrated by Ken Workman, a member of the Duwamish Tribe and descendant of Chief Seattle.

“We want the boats and everything we do to be real and authentic, not cheesy, like non-Native. So we’re including all the local tribes. And that’s really the point of these boats — not being divisive, being inclusive and helping each other.”

Tlingit Tribe member George Montero is presented with a traditional Duwamish blanket at a ceremony before Salish Sea Tours made one of its first voyages Thursday, June 24, 2021, from Miner’s Landing on the Seattle waterfront. The Elliott Bay tour’s narration shares the history of the city and its Indigenous people. Owner Kyle Griffith, an enrolled member of the Chinook Indian Nation, said the tour is a tangible representation of tribes coming together. (Photo by The Bellingham Herald)

The tour was created in collaboration with non-Native artists and performers as well. Installed next to the ticket booth is a totem pole carved by Mark Hudson, a carver who studied traditional carving practices and has carved many pieces along the pier, including at the Wings Over Washington attraction, Griffith said.

Salish Sea Tours was originally set to open to the public in 2020, but the pandemic and emergency repairs to the pier last summer delayed the launch. The boats, built in Bellingham by All American Marine Inc., were brought to Seattle, but due to the delay had to be stored out of the water in Anacortes.

“We’ve been waiting so long. The boats were being built way before COVID happened and then COVID broke out about halfway through building the boats,” Griffith said. “That’s why today is so special. To see people actually be out, having fun on them is what the whole thing is about.”

Due to local restrictions, the tour is still at 50 percent capacity until June 30. The tours sold out on opening day, with weekend voyages quickly filling up. Tickets are $30 for adults, $20 for youth ages 3-11, $27 for seniors and children under 2 are free and can be purchased at salishseatours.com.

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