Canoers make their way from south of Portland to Maritime Heritage Festival in St. Helens

by: COURTESY OF: MICHELLE ALAIMO, SMOKE SIGNALS  - Every youth involved in Canoe Journey carves hir or her own paddle. The canoes are handmade by tribal carvers and each one is given a name and blessed before entering the water. A fleet of handmade canoes will land on the city docks of St. Helens Tuesday, July 23, as an early opening to the Maritime Heritage Festival.

The paddlers of the six to seven 10-person canoes will be made up of Native American tribal members from Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington.

“The Canoe Journey is a program between the tribes of the Pacific Northwest to celebrate and encourage our youth to practice life in sobriety and wellness through cultural traditions,” said Siobhan Taylor, public affairs director with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde and organizer of the Canoe Journey event.

The Canoe Journey is composed of eight Native American tribal nations that will begin paddling north on the Willamette from Newberg on Saturday, July 20. Paddlers of Canoe Journey will eventually connect with the Columbia then paddle west to the Pacific. The fleet will then turn north toward its final destination at the Indian Reservation in Taholah, Wash.

In total, the trip will be more than 500 miles long, Taylor said.

The fleet will land at 4 p.m. on Tuesday in St. Helens, where paddlers will be greeted by the St. Helens City Council, tribal elders and support crews carrying supplies, Taylor said. The paddlers will camp overnight, holding cultural demonstrations for the public, such as blessings and ceremonies.

The canoeists will depart Wednesday morning, July 24, to continue their journey to the Pacific.

While the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde will begin the journey July 20, the fleet will connect with and pick up several other tribes as it makes its way through the waterways culturally connected to the tribes involved.

“The route is part of our culture,” Taylor said. “All of the tribal people who now make up the Grand Ronde were gathered up in the 1850s and marched to a reservation in Oregon called the Grand Ronde. It came from about 20 to 30 different tribes and bands from California all the way up to the western slopes of Mount Hood. They were forced to march onto the reservation where the tribe is today.”

Taylor said the event is also a means for modern Native Americans to reconnect with their land.

“It’s organized through our social services project. We do a lot of outreach to train and recruit kids for this; they work all year,” she said.

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