Tribes land at Fort Vancouver

Warm Springs, Cowlitz canoes make stop on way to Northwest gathering

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Centuries of tribal traditions and language were beaten out of his father, Bill Iyall said.

Now that heritage is coming back, and part of it landed Thursday on the shore of Columbia River in Vancouver.

Two canoes headed for a multitribe event in the northwest part of Washington made a stop at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

A 32-foot canoe was paddled by members of the Cowlitz Tribe; the other canoe, a 36-footer, flew the flag of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in Oregon.

The two canoes are on the way to an annual gathering of Northwest tribes this month near Anacortes. Fort Vancouver was an appropriate overnight camping site for the travelers.

“The reason the Hudson’s Bay Company was here was because of trade with the tribes,” said Iyall, chairman of the Cowlitz Tribe.

Since then, his people have been dispersed and their heritage diluted, said Iyall, a Gig Harbor resident.

However, “A lot of people went to distant reservations and maintained (traditions) and have come back to share them with us,” Iyall said.

“A lot of people thought we lost our culture,” said Tanna Engdahl, a Cowlitz elder who lives near Woodland. “It went dormant and underground for many years. Now it’s just bursting.”

A member of the Warm Springs crew represents the younger side of the renaissances.

“I feel privileged,” 22-year-old Francis Gonsalez said. “This is a chance to reconnect with history, and learn more about my culture and other people’s culture.”

The first day of the journey was scheduled to end with an evening of traditional drumming, songs and ceremonies, in a location that has been a gathering place for centuries.

Tracy Fortmann, superintendent of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, said that tribal members have a direct connection with the workers’ village at Fort Vancouver, as well as earlier eras of history.

“I was honored they were interested in connecting to this place through this ceremonial activity,” Fortmann said. “This could be a really wonderful tribute to our collective pasts in the great Pacific Northwest.”

Today, the tribal groups will do their traveling on the highway before they resume paddling. The Cowlitz will head for the Shelton area, where they will be welcomed by the Squaxin Tribe. They will be joined by other tribal canoe teams — including Nisqually, Puyallup, Muckleshoot, Suquamish and Tulalip — as they paddle north along Puget Sound.

The Warm Springs group is driving north to the Olympic Peninsula, where they will be welcomed at the Makah Indian Reservation. They will paddle to the gathering through the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The 2011 tribal canoe celebration ends later this month in La Conner at an event hosted by the Swinomish Tribe.

According to a newspaper account, last year’s event drew close to 10,000 people from about 50 tribes and Canadian First Nation groups.