A Journey of Culture: The Tribal Canoe Journey in Olympia, Washington

:: The annual Tribal Canoe Journey has grown to become the largest gathering of Native Americans in the western Washington State region.  This year, the Squaxin Island Tribe hosted the journey, welcoming more than 10,000 people and 98 canoes, with canoes traveling from as far away as northern California, Peru, and Florida. Following the landing on July 29th in Olympia, Washington, the tribe hosted a week-long Potlatch Protocol Celebration in which participants donned regalia, performed traditional dances and songs, and celebrated their culture in tribal fellowship.
  
In 2011, the NEA awarded an Our Town grant to Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, to support numerous art-making workshops where community members crafted traditional art in preparation for the annual Canoe Journey. Led by renowned regional artists and tribal leaders, workshops included carving, weaving, printmaking, and painting. Resulting artwork was used during the Canoe Journey, exhibited during the Protocol Celebration, and is currently being exhibited throughout neighboring communities.
  
The following slideshow documents the richness of the art produced for the Canoe Journey, as well as the journey itself.

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A group of canoe families conclude their journey, preparing to land on the shore of North Point in the Port of Olympia, Washington. Photo courtesy of ThurstonTalk.com

A group of canoe families conclude their journey, preparing to land on the shore of North Point in the Port of Olympia, Washington. Each canoe family took their turn asking permission to land. As the host, the Squaxin Island Tribe granted each canoe landing permission. On the shore are thousands of cheering spectators, dancers, and dignitaries who wait to welcome and congratulate the "Paddle to Squaxin 2012" participants. Photo courtesy of ThurstonTalk.com

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Canoe Journey participants anxiously wait to request permission for landing. A close-up snapshot of the group shows the color and vibrancy of the canoes, as well as the traditional decorative garments many participants wore. Photo by Theresa Henderson

Canoe Journey participants anxiously wait to request permission for landing. A close-up snapshot of the group shows the color and vibrancy of the canoes, as well as the traditional decorative garments many participants wore. Photo by Theresa Henderson

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A long line of canoes rest on the shore, taking a break after their long journeys to Olympia. Photo by Theresa Henderson

A long line of canoes rest on the shore, taking a break after their long journeys to Olympia. Photo by Theresa Henderson

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A young girl enjoys the festivities at the Canoe Landing. Photo by Theresa Henderson

A young girl enjoys the festivities at the Canoe Landing. The drum she holds is a product of one of the community art workshops led by drum-maker Joe Seymour, a Squaxin Island member. The workshop, along with a majority of the others, included very small children, high school students, college students, adults, and senior citizens of the community. This intergenerational participation set the tone for the Canoe Journey and Protocol Celebration, encouraging unity throughout families as well as the community. Photo by Theresa Henderson

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Young Squaxin men line up, preparing to conduct the warrior dance at the beginning the Potlatch Protocol. Photo by Laura Grabhorn

Young Squaxin men line up, preparing to conduct the warrior dance at the beginning the Potlatch Protocol. Here they welcome visitors arriving from the Canoe Journey. The aprons worn around their waists are made from pounded cedar bark, and were created by the men in a workshop led by Josh Mason. Each participant learned how to prepare the bark, and then to weave the regalia from it. "What has happened is resurgence in the traditional regalia of the Salish people from this region," said Tina Kuckkahn-Miller, director of the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center at Evergreen State College. "As a result of the workshops, they filled the entire dance floor. It was one of the most moving things I witnessed at the Potlatch Protocol. People might not imagine what the impact can be of supporting workshops, but for them it meant really reclaiming an important part of their heritage." Photo by Laura Grabhorn

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Lead artist Kurt Poste participates in the warrior dance. Photo by Laura Grabhorn

Lead artist Kurt Poste participates in the warrior dance. The paddle he carries is one of many created in a workshop led by fellow lead artist, John E. Smith. Smith and Squaxin Island elders prepared the paddles by hand-cutting them out of wood and sanding them. Community members customized each paddle by painting unique designs on them. "It’s an interest of the community to have people remember these more traditional art forms that they may not have been exposed to before," said Laura Grabhorn, assistant director of the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center at Evergreen State College. Photo by Laura Grabhorn

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Serigraph artist and painter Peter Boome works at the light table with a participating artist. Photo by Laura Grabhorn

Serigraph artist and painter Peter Boome works at the light table with a participating artist. Boome, an Upper Skagit tribal member, hosted the serigraph printmaking workshop at Evergreen State College. Participants included Evergreen students, community members from Squaxin, as well as community members from throughout western Washington. Prints produced were given as visual arts gifts for guests of the canoe journey, as displayed in an exhibition following Protocol week. "When you’re a host tribe, there’s the cultural expectation that there will be gifts offered to folks who witnessed the landing, and who stayed for the week of Protocol. Squaxin had the goal of having as much handmade art that they could possibly produce to give out as gifts. Squaxin did a very good job of displaying the skills and talents of their artists, whether they were professional artists or new at practicing their art forms," explained Laura Grabhorn, assistant director of the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center. Photo by Laura Grabhorn

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This picture features products from Peter Boome’s serigraph workshop. Photo by Laura Grabhorn

This picture features products from Peter Boome’s serigraph workshop. The artwork was part of aCultural Connection exhibit held at the Evergreen State College Galleries. Some of this artwork, as well as the work created in other workshops, were photographed, enlarged, and displayed on suspended foam boards throughout the Protocol tent. The 20,000-square-foot tent provided a space for people to gather in the ten days after they reached the tribe. Work was also recently displayed at a business expo for Native-American leaders at the Tacoma Convention Center and at the Northwest Native American Basket Weavers Association’s annual gathering. Plans are currently underway to display the art at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia, Washington. Photo by Laura Grabhorn

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Two women demonstrate the traditional basket dance during the Potlatch Protocol Celebration week. Photo by Laura Grabhorn

"Two women demonstrate the traditional basket dance during the Potlatch Protocol Celebration week. Their outfits showcase the twined wool skirts both women wove during one of the public art workshops under the leadership of artist Misty Kalama. While the twine-skirt weaving workshop was hosted at Squaxin Island, other workshops took place throughout the region. Sites included the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center at Evergreen State College, the Squaxin Museum, reservation sites, and in the studios of local artists. "What was amazing was that just by asking people to come to the workshops and make art for Squaxin, people showed up in droves," said Tina Kuckkahn-Miller, director of the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center. "It really had a reach. We had people who couldn’t wait to sign up for the next activity." Photo by Laura Grabhorn

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A man approaches the shore, proudly flying the Squaxin Island Tribe flag and the 2012 Paddle to Squaxin flag. Photo by Theresa Henderson

A man approaches the shore, proudly flying the Squaxin Island Tribe flag and the 2012 Paddle to Squaxin flag. "The Canoe Journey is transforming for the people who participate. Their lives are changed because of it," said Laura Grabhorn. "It’s much, much bigger than what it might appear at first glance. It actually changes people’s lives." Photo by Theresa Henderson