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Salish Sea Sentinel | October 21, 2020

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‘A difficult decision but the right one’: Tribal Journeys prep shifts from Snuneymuxw to Tla’amin in 2021

‘A difficult decision but the right one’: Tribal Journeys prep shifts from Snuneymuxw to Tla’amin in 2021

File photo from Paddle to Lummi 2019 by Todd Peacey.

By David P. Ball

“Every stroke we take is one less we have to make,” states Tribal Canoe Journeys’ Ten Rules of the Canoe, written in 1990 on the event’s second year. Another rule, according to tradition: “We all pull and support each other.” 

Those lessons, created by Quileute paddlers as recorded in David Neel’s book “The Great Canoes” could be as applicable to getting through the painful COVID-19 pandemic as they are useful for teams of paddlers spending long, difficult days braving the ocean waves at the annual international event. 

Until being canceled because of the health emergency, this summer’s Paddle to Snuneymuxw was supposed to happen from July 27 to Aug. 1. It would have been the first time in the Tribal Canoe Journey’s three-decade history that Snuneymuxw First Nation would have hosted the major gathering. 

“Our hearts are with the Snuneymuxw people,” said Drew Blaney, chair of the 2021 Paddle to Tla’amin.  

“We understand the decision, and we’re trying to keep our elders and youth safe. It’s still disappointing; in all the nations and tribes along the coast, it’s revitalized so much of our culture and our nations.” 

This year would have been the 31st anniversary of the event, which was first launched in 1989 with the “Paddle to Seattle.” 

Tribal Journeys Director Jodi Simkin said that having to cancel this summer’s Paddle to Snuneymuxw wasn’t easy but was important to protect participants’ health — and their communities. 

“Although a difficult decision, I think it was the right one,” the Klahoose First Nation cultural affairs and heritage director said. “It was very bittersweet — you want to do the right thing, to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make sure all the communities are safe. 

“Certainly people on the Safety Committee were really cognizant that for lots of young folks this is really the marker for the whole year — not just the journey, but the preparation for it — so to cancel was not taken lightly.” 

Before COVID-19 hit, Snuneymuxw had been preparing to host more than 100 canoes from B.C. and Washington State. However Chief Mike Wyse announced in April that the gathering would be cancelled because of the public health risk. 

“COVID-19 poses a serious threat to the health and well-being of paddlers, canoe families and First Nations across the Pacific North West,” Wyse said.  

“We are focused on keeping our elders and people safe.” 

Now, work is already underway planning for next year’s event, which will be a Paddle to Tla’amin Nation. Preparation work with that community already “started at the beginning of April,” Simkin revealed. “Most of our team, including myself, will be shifting to support Tribal Journeys 2021 Paddle to Tla’amin.” 

Although the next several years of hosting are already booked by other nations, Blaney said he looks forward to Snuneymuxw hosting soon; a lot of work went into planning this year’s cancelled journey and “youth and elders really look forward to it every year — it is such a good show of our cultures,” he said. 

“We really look forward to touching their shores in further years when they can host again,” he said. “We’re excited to welcome the Pacific North West to our territories, to our homeland.”  

Meanwhile, although Klahoose First Nation had to postpone their Awakening of the Canoes annual safety event that prepares paddlers for Tribal Journeys, they haven’t canceled it outright, Simkin said — but will announce a rescheduled date, she hopes in September. 

Next year’s Tribal Journeys Paddle to Tla’amin is scheduled for July 27 to Aug. 1, 2021 — and roughly a dozen teams are already registered for the 2021 event. Information can be found at www.paddletotlaamin.com