Tribes travel by river on annual trek

Canoe Journey 2012 makes stop at Fort Vancouver site

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter



A welcoming party awaits canoes from the Cowlitz, Warm Springs, Snohomish, Clatsop-Nehalem and Snoqualmie tribes. The canoes are on their way to a gathering in South Puget Sound.

Several dozen people arrived Tuesday afternoon in Vancouver on a family adventure.

This wasn’t the typical summer road trip: They came by canoe.

Crews representing five Northwest tribes landed on a Columbia River beach just south of the re-created Fort Vancouver.

Their overnight stay at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site marked an early stage in a much more ambitious journey. They are heading for an annual assembly, Canoe Journey 2012, on Squaxin Island in South Puget Sound.

Steve Kutz, who is aboard the Cowlitz canoe, said that both Fort Vancouver and the waterways to the north are part of his family story.

“Fort Vancouver is important to the Cowlitz and a lot of tribes,” he said.

As far as his own ancestors go, Kutz said, three different branches of his family lived at Fort Vancouver at one point. Other branches of his family dispersed all over the Northwest.

“Tribes intermarried all up and down the coast,” Kutz said, and at the annual canoe event, “You discover family you never knew you had.”

The friends-and-family theme was part of Tuesday’s arrival. The skippers of the four visiting canoes — Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs — identified themselves and asked for permission to come ashore.

“We are friends and relatives,” pointed out one of the skippers.

“Welcome, and join us,” responded Bill Iyall, Cowlitz chairman.

This is the second year the Cowlitz have held a stopover here, said Philip Harju, vice chairman.

“There were two canoes in 2011. Five are here now,” Harju said.

The gathering was scheduled to include an evening of tribal songs and dancing on the camping site.

It’s a nod to the traditional ways that also was reflected in one of the canoes. While the canoe technology included fiberglass craft and laminated cedar-strip construction, one was a traditional dugout.

In the early stages of their journey since they put into the water on Saturday, the wind and water conditions really tested the pullers, as the people with the paddles are called.

“We were having chops, waves and rolls,” Kutz said.

The strong headwinds can do more than just slow you down, he said: “When you’re facing the wind, it can catch the side of the canoe and can start turning you.”

They put into the water well before dawn on a couple of those days so they could get in some miles before the wind picked up.

“Those nights are pretty short,” Kutz said.

It helps that there are plenty of people in support roles, who cook and set up camp and drive the gear and supplies to the next stop.

“It’s a team effort,” he said.

The Cowlitz will trailer their canoe north on Interstate 5 today, while the Snohomish and Snoqualmie will ride the Columbia River all the way to its mouth.

There are a lot of ways to get to Squaxin Island for the assembly, Kutz said.

“Some are coming down from Alaska, and they started a month ago.”

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558;;