Underscore News + ICT
Photos by
Jarrette Werk and Carrie Johnson

A sea of tents, RVs, vans and cars covered the grass in front of the newly constructed Muckleshoot Community Center on Monday morning. Outside, a ring of vendors sell their wares — huckleberry lemonade, beadwork, fry bread, turquoise, colorful scarves and more.

Inside, bleachers in the auditorium were packed as Canoe Journey protocol officially began.

As hosts, representatives from the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe welcomed hundreds of canoe pullers and thousands of tribal community members into their home.

“For me, I feel a lot of pride because we know that these traditions, these teachings — like mutual respect for other tribes — are going to carry on,” said John Daniels Jr., Muckleshoot tribal council member, treasurer and chairman of the culture committee. “There were ancestors that put their lives on the line. They could have just assimilated but they said ‘I’ll die before I let them take our culture, our traditions.’”

Indigenous languages, songs, the chiming of bells, the rhythm of drums and the pounding of feet mid-dance filled the enormous community center. The sounds carried outside, broadcast on speakers.

In total, 120 canoe families made the journey from their home nations around the Pacific Northwest and beyond. After paddling for days or weeks to the canoe landing at Alki Beach, most took turns sharing their songs and dances in a multiple day ceremony called protocol.

The first family to take the floor for protocol was the One People Canoe Family from Alaska. Hundreds of people sitting in the bleachers surrounding the gym inside the community center watched, at times clapping along or sitting in hushed silence. Each canoe family had the stage for two hours, but many took less time than that and some took longer.

This year is particularly important. It’s the first canoe journey after a three-year break during the Covid-19 pandemic. For so many, canoe journey this summer has been about healing and honoring loved ones lost.

“It’s reawakening that energy, that spirit that we have, that we’ve lost, that have been taken from us because of the pandemic,” said Jessica Elopre, Tlinigt and Haida, part of the G’ana’k’w Canoe Family. “That’s what this is, it really feels like all of us have been woken up again.”

Lead photo: The One Canoe Family from Alaska was the first to share songs and dances, kicking off multiple days of protocol. (Photo by Jarrette Werk / Underscore News & Report for America)

Many canoe families camped at Muckleshoot throughout the week of protocol. The tribe provided breakfast, dinner and a late night snack each day. “Hosting is sharing,” said John Daniels Jr., Muckleshoot tribal council member, treasurer, and chairman of the culture committee. “Sharing culture and the respect. They ask permission to come into our territory so we are responsible for them, we’ll take care of them.” (Photo by Jarrette Werk / Underscore News & Report for America)
Wallace Nagedzi Watts, of the Wanukw Canoe Club, traveled from Alert Bay in Canada and performed the cannibal dance during protocol. Before Watts danced, Wanukw Canoe Club Speaker Gusdidzas (Matthew Ambers) explained the relevance of the cannibal dance. “For now, we’re going to shake off our tears and shake off our sadness for a little bit. This song and dance is a time for us to put that sadness away.” (Photo by Jarrette Werk / Underscore News & Report for America)
From left: Brad Schmitz Jr., Helena Schmitz, Anecia Schmitz and Brad Schmitz Sr. pose for a photo in front of the Muckleshoot Community Center after sharing a raven song and dance during protocol. Helena and her kids are Saskinax̂, from Atux̂ am Angatux̂ am Samiyan lands (the southernmost Aleutian Island). Helena and Brad Jr. paddled from Suquamish to Alki Beach on a kayak, Iyĝasugaayax̂, that they built with the help of 30 others. “This is the first time that we built our kayaks since about 1910,” Helena Schmitz said. (Photo by Jarrette Werk / Underscore News & Report for America)
“As Indigenous people, we look at the long history and process of colonialism when our visitors from across the shore showed up here and tried to claim this land as their own. They systematically had an effort to eradicate our culture and systematically went about trying to eradicate our people,” said Donny Stevenson, Muckleshoot vice chair. “And through the strength that our people had gathered through literally hundreds of generations and thousands of years, despite that process, we are still here today and strong as ever.” (Photo by Jarrette Werk / Underscore News & Report for America)
Jessica Elopre and her mom LaVerne Wise, both Tlingit and Haida, are part of the G’ana’k’w Canoe Family. For them, canoe journey and protocol are about cultural healing. “Losing elders, those knowledge keepers, and finding ways to heal together and not be sad,” Elopre said. “The fact that this is the first protocol in four years, the medicine that is being brought out has so much more deep meaning because we haven’t been with each other.” (Photo by Jarrette Werk / Underscore News & Report for America)
Akane Ironheart, 11 months, citizen of the Sauk-Suiattle tribal nation, plays with a drum that was made at camp during protocol. She is one of the youngest members of the Portland All Nations Canoe Family, which represents around 40 tribal nations from all across Turtle Island.(Photo by Jarrette Werk / Underscore News & Report for America)
During a round dance, hundreds flowed onto the floor to come together, and those still seated cheered and clapped along. By sharing traditional knowledge, language and stories with each other and the next generations, Canoe Journey is both a celebration and a demonstration of resilience. (Photo by Jarrette Werk / Underscore News & Report for America)
Julia Joseph, Ditidaht First Nation from Nuu Chah Nulth from Vancouver Island, has been following the canoe journey for the past 15 years. The Quinault Nation gifted her son a canoe, which made it possible for her family to join the journey. “We have a really small group this year but it’s a good one,” Joseph said. (Photo by Jarrette Werk / Underscore News & Report for America)
Lanie Smith, 14 (left), sits with her cousin, Cabato, 15. The two cousins, both Port Gamble S’Klallam, are camping at Muckleshoot for the week of protocol with their family. This is their first year participating. “Watching protocol has been exhilarating to see what my culture looks like after not seeing it for so long,” Smith said. (Photo by Carrie Johnson / Underscore News)
Attendees decorated their cars to display their support for relatives making the journey to Muckleshoot by land and water. (Photo by Jarrette Werk / Underscore News & Report for America)

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Nika is a journalist with a passion for working to center the voices and experiences of communities often left behind in mainstream media coverage. Of Osage and Oneida Nations descent, with Northern European...