As the 12-person canoe approached the shore of Bowman Bay, skipper Kelly Hackler-Hall advised guests that the Samish tradition is for a first-time canoe paddler to show respect for the water and acknowledge its power by submerging oneself after a first outing.
“I want to do it,” Sabrina Karim, 5, of Seattle told her parents. And so she did, submerging in the water and re≈emerging with a smile.
For visitors to the Samish and Swinomish canoe families’ 14th annual Cultural Day June 8 at Bowman Bay, the day was a cram course in local Native American culture.
Visitors witnessed traditional songs and dances, ventured out in a Samish canoe, lunched on barbecued salmon and watched weaving and carving demonstrations.
Sabrina’s father, Karim Sheraz of Seattle, was proud of his daughter for following a traditional teaching. The family visited the Quileute Nation at La Push and the Makah Nation at Neah Bay before visiting Bowman Bay for Cultural Day.
“It’s amazing how rich (Northwest native culture) is,” he said. “It’s a knowledge that should come into the mainstream economy and mainstream society where we can benefit from it.”
The event at Bowman Bay is a fundraiser for Samish and Swinomish canoe pullers who will participate in the Canoe Journey, the annual gathering of Northwest Native peoples. Participating canoes visit tribal nations en route to the final destination and a week-long celebration – this year, the Lummi Nation July 24-29. Samish expects to host 70-80 canoe families July 23 at Seafarers Memorial Park before the canoes depart for Lummi.
Since the Canoe Journey’s inception with the Paddle to Seattle during Washington’s 1989 centennial, the event has swelled to more than 100 canoes, 10,000 visitors and representatives of Native peoples from other parts of the globe: Ainu from Japan, Maori from New Zealand, Native Hawaiians, Alaska Natives and Indigenous Mexicans.
Makaela Kroin, folk and traditional arts program coordinator for Washington State Parks, helped get grant funding for the event this year. The event increases public awareness “about how important the (Canoe) Journey is to the tribes, and gives visitors the chance to interact with tribal members and realize this is their land, this is the traditional way they would have traveled.”
She added, “And they are still here. I think there is so much we can learn from people who have been coexisting with this land and this water for thousands of years.”
Eric Day, who is also a member of the Swinomish Senate, answered questions as he cooked salmon. Former Samish Tribal Council member Chris DeKay and her sister, Sally Barrett, social services specialist for the Samish Nation, taught cedar weaving. Bill Bailey, Samish master carver known by his Indian name Tsul-ton, and other carvers talked about the works they displayed.
Audriawna Andrade, a bioanthropology student at Edmonds Community College, helped sell T-shirts — and came away with some knowledge about the Samish language. She also came away with a satisfied palate.
“The salmon was amazing,” she said.
Sarah Beck of Bellingham is the daughter of a Palestinian father and a Honduran mother and grew up in Jerusalem. Her husband is Maori.
“I loved learning about weaving,” she said of the day. “It looks so simple and intricate, but the more you look at it there’s so much that goes into it. The basket could be made in a month, but so much prep goes into harvesting the cedar and getting it to the stage of being able to mold it and weave with it.”
Donations and proceeds from lunch and T-shirt sales will go to the canoe families.
Day’s salmon and Samish Nation cultural director Rosie Cayou’s frybread were big hits. Day uses only salt and alder smoke to make his salmon plate-ready. He’s been volunteering as a fish cook for 38 years, preparing salmon for gatherings, funerals and community celebrations.
If someone wants to become a fish cook they just “get in there and go to work,” Day said. Watch and learn. “Everything else will come to you.”