Edmonds’ Olympic Beach was the launch point Thursday morning for a tribal canoe journey involving Edmonds Community College students who are supporting the travel of three canoe families on their way to a large gathering in British Columbia.
This annual celebration of the Native American canoeing tradition has been going on since 1989, and includes indigenous nations from the coastal Northwestern U.S. and Canada, plus participants who come from far away as Hawaii and New Zealand. Each year, the location changes, hosted by a different tribe.
It’s the seventh summer that Edmonds Community College has participated in the tribal canoe journey, under the leadership of Dr. Thomas Murphy, chair of Edmonds CC’s Anthropology Department. The experience is offered through the college’s LEAF (Learn and Serve Environmental Anthropology Field) School and Center for Service Learning.
While Edmonds in the past has served as a rest stop during previous years’ journeys, this is the first time a trip has been launched from an Edmonds beach, Murphy said.
The LEAF school partners with local tribes to offer intensive service-learning experiences for students in field-based courses in human ecology and archaeology, while the Center for Service-Learning helps engage students from across campus in service-learning activities that serve local tribes and the greater community.
“This experience is richly rewarding for students as they gain a hands-on experience with local tribal communities, while learning about the cultural importance of relationships with plants and animals,” Murphy said. “It is often life-changing. Many of our students have Native heritage and these classes allow them to study in culturally relevant and engaged ways.”
A total of 18 Edmonds CC students and three staff/faculty are participating in this summer’s tribal journey. Students will be earning 15 college credits in subjects that include human ecology, bioanthropology and Northwest coast art. Prior to the journey, they also received some training in canoe paddling.
At Olympic Beach Thursday morning, six students joined the Heron Canoe Family to paddle approximately 24.5 miles to Camano Island State Park, where the group will camp overnight. The remaining 12 students will travel in support vans, and will take turns paddling during the remainder of the two-plus-week journey, until the Heron Family Canoe arrives in Campbell River, where they will join nearly 100 other canoe families.
Once they reach their final destination, the group will enjoy five days of potlatch song, dancing and feasts.
Michael Evans, chair of the Snohomish Tribe, is skipper of the Blue Heron Family canoe. He was there to guide participants as they unloaded the canoe and carried it to the water’s edge.
As a group of students, college and city officials and supporters gathered around him on the beach, Evans offered some advice for participants.
“When you’re out there I want you to remember a couple of things,” he said. “You’re in a different world. You’re no longer in a world that you understand. This water world doesn’t care if you live or die. It’s indifferent. It doesn’t care. So you are going to have to pay attention when you are out there on the water.
“Any of your problems that you have with family members, spouses, boyfriend, girlfriend other types of relationships, leave them on shore. Come in only with what you need to get you there.”
As the canoe pushed off from shore, members of the crowd began singing a Blue Heron Family song.
The boat then paddled out a short distance and turned back toward shore to receive a traditional blessing from those on land.
“On behalf of Edmonds Community College, we wish you blessings, safety and favor,” called out Dr. Yvonne Terrell-Powell, the college’s vice president of equity and inclusion.
“We always welcome you to our shores and wish you a safe journey from them,” added Emily Scott, chair of the City of Edmonds Historic Preservation Commission.
— Story, photos and video by Teresa Wippel