On July 12th, I was privileged to be in La Push, Washington, as the Quileute Tribe welcomed open ocean travelers from the Quinault Nation to their shore. These travelers, pullers, had navigated 50 miles of ocean travel that day into the Quillayute River. This was the first leg of a journey culminating with their arrival at Squaxin Island (near Olympia, WA) on July 28th. Along the way, they will be joined by the canoes from other Native American tribes, as well as First Nations peoples from Canada. It is expected that at least 100 canoes will be traveling together by the end of the journey.
At La Push, following anciently established protocol, a speaker from each of the five visiting canoes addressed the Quileute Chief, requesting permission to come ashore. The chief then responded with compliments and gratitude, welcoming the travelers and offering them rest, refreshment and socializing. Three Quileute canoes escorted and observed their fellows. Many Quileute were also there to welcome the travelers in a traditional way, singing, beating drums and raising their open arms.
After the visiting canoes steered toward shore, the Quileute canoes were maneuvered through the waterway in front of the chief and the crowd. Again, the songs and drums sounded to honor their own.
When the pullers arrive at Squaxin Island, there will be the 'potlatch protocal' from July 30th through August 5th, during which everyone involved will feast and receive gifts.
The subtitle for this event on the official site is "Teachings of Our Ancestors." Besides being interesting and educational, it was an emotional experience for me to observe the ancient, traditional interactions of modern-day people. Their connection with their heritage was truly moving. They waited more than three hours beyond the expected arrival of the canoes with their electric microphone and their deerskin drums. In the true spirit of their ancestors, they greeted and welcomed strangers to their homeland. Then, they all gathered to eat and celebrate together.
When those pullers left La Push on Friday morning, the Quileute canoes accompanied them. Pullers from the Hoh nation also joined them. On the ocean, they are all one.