As Ty Koch takes part in a tribal tradition that goes back untold generations, “It’s very humbling,” the 19-year-old said.
For one thing, “It’s a lot of hard work,” Koch said Tuesday after members of the Cowlitz Canoe Family brought their craft ashore at Fort Vancouver. “You have long pulls and you’ve got to keep powering through it.”
But members of the canoe crew also find themselves immersed in the cultural significance of pulling a paddle.
“The sense of spirituality is through the roof,” Koch said. “We’ve been doing this for hundreds of years, and it’s not changing. My children will be doing it.”
“It’s very fun, even though it’s tiring,” added Josiah Welch. “You’re gonna get wet, but it’s kind of like a cleansing of the spirit.”
Getting younger paddlers like Koch, Welch, Kyle Lopez and Tristan Spahr involved is a way to ensure the survival of Cowlitz heritage, tribal Chairman Bill Iyall said after the 12:30 p.m. arrival.
“This represents our culture and history, and introduces it to our youth,” Iyall said.
There are some practical aspects as well.
“There is tradition and ritual, but there also is discipline” when you’re in a canoe, Iyall said. “Lives depend on you. There can be weather that comes in. You have to be up to the challenge.”
After spending Tuesday night at Fort Vancouver, the paddlers and their canoe will go overland Wednesday to Birch Bay in northwest Washington, where they will launch and spend a week paddling most of the length of Puget Sound.
The annual meet-up of tribal canoe families is Aug. 5-7 on the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation.
While this year’s gathering has a youth focus, the 2016 Canoe Journey will be a major West Coast event, Iyall said. It is expected to draw canoe families from California to Canada.