Submitted by The Quinault Indian Nation
TAHOLAH, WA – In the remote, forested, ocean front location of Hunishu Point near here (newly named in honor of Quinault elder Phillip Martin, Sr), 10,000 people have gathered over the past six days to celebrate what has become the greatest event in the Pacific Northwest when it comes to rekindling Native American culture—the annual Canoe Journey.
On August 1, 30 foot plus cedar canoes, some of which had been in the water for weeks, splashed ashore at Point Grenville as they were given traditional welcomes by the leaders of the Quinault Indian Nation. Ultimately, the total count of the beautifully carved and very heavy canoes has been 90. The traditional welcome was to come ashore, feast and rest and share traditional song, dance and story. And so they have. From several Northwest states, Hawaii, Canada and even New Zealand, they have been conducting traditional ceremony ever since in the form of potlatch.
At one time it was illegal, under U.S. and Canadian law to potlatch. A potlatch is a gift-giving form of celebration that pre-dates either the U.S. or Canada by thousands of years. Unfortunately, missionaries thought it necessary to ban the practice in order to assimilate tribal members. In the U.S., the 1884 Indian Act was revised to outlaw a tradition that had been part of this land from time immemorial. The practice continued nonetheless, of course, although not in the public eye. This past week, the public has been invited—and it has all been legal. Many have attended and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
“There have been many highlights. Thousands of traditional dinners have been served. The spectacular experience of giant cedar canoes splashing ashore amidst indigenous ceremony was incredible. In the potlatch, Native song, drumming and dancing from one tribe, then another, have been as well. Native arts and crafts, medicines and foods have been very available,” said Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation. “It has been a wonderful experience.”
The Quinault Indian Nation will establish a carving house for new canoes as well as tribal masks, Totems and other Indian arts at Hunishu Point. It will also be a location for a tsunami safety and training center—the land is 120-150 feet above sea level. Along those same lines, the infrastructure developed and the experience gained in coordinating an event of this magnitude, e.g., providing food, transportation coordination, safety and security measures, etc. have all valuable experience in preparing for any future events, or emergency situations, she said.
Quinault has commissioned the production of a documentary about the Paddle to Quinault by Chris Eyre and his associates. Eyre produced “Smoke Signals,” a critically acclaimed feature film about tribes. It’s estimated the Digital HD film will be available about September 1. Watch the QIN website (www.QuinaultIndianNation.org) for details.