Canoe journey coming Labor Day weekend

By Oliver Lazenby

Native canoes are coming to Blaine and Birch Bay this Labor Day weekend for an event called “Communities Pulling Together.”

Members of the Semiahmoo, Lummi, Haida G’ana’k’w and other canoe families plan to paddle local waters and camp out for three days of boating, traditional dances, picnics, potlatches and campfires.

Blaine resident and member of the Haida G’ana’k’w canoe family Ron Snyder, a co-organizer of the event, said about half a dozen other canoe families were invited and he expects at least some of them to attend.

The gathering starts in Birch Bay at about 1 p.m. on Saturday, September, 2. At 2:30 p.m., after a traditional dance, canoers will leave for Blaine, where they will spend most of Sunday and Monday.

Event organizers held a similar festival in 2015, but this year the community is invited to paddle or sail along with the canoe families. The group plans to paddle around Drayton Harbor and up Dakota Creek with the returning salmon on Sunday, and across Drayton Harbor to Semiahmoo spit for a picnic on Monday, Snyder said.

Many Pacific Northwest tribes historically traveled by ocean-going canoes, and in recent years tribal canoe families have taken annual long distance journeys. Traditionally, canoe families were relatives. Snyder says a modern canoe family is “a group of people, related or not, who choose to pull [paddle] together.”

For Snyder, organizing the Labor Day canoe festival is just his latest project in decades of working to restore Native American canoe culture in the Pacific Northwest.

In the 1800s, European Americans forced Native American children to attend boarding schools throughout the U.S., where they were punished for speaking their native language and separated from their culture. Canoe culture was one of many casualties of that forced assimilation.

“It only takes one generation to lose your culture,” Snyder said.

Snyder got involved in the canoe revival in 1990 by helping organize a group paddle on Lake Union. Since then, his canoe family has given away about a dozen canoes to other tribes and canoe families, he said.

Native canoe culture is gathering current and organized paddles have grown exponentially in recent years, with many tribal canoe families covering hundreds of miles in annual journeys.

“The Northwest native people have been navigating the water for 12,000 years. That’s a long-standing tradition.” Snyder said. “That it’s growing again is empowering, absolutely.”

For more information, contact Snyder and co-organizer Cathy Taggett at 360/332-8082, or look for an event schedule in The Northern Light later this summer.

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