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Reclaiming Salish Canoe Tradition within the Shadow of Tech Giants

Seattle’s South Lake Union could also be house to Fb, Google, and Amazon, however now, because of Native rights activists, it would as soon as once more be house to hand-carved canoes, too.

Jan. 6 was a typical overcast day in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. Few of the tech staff from the close by workplaces of Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have been outdoors at lunchtime. Just a few could possibly be seen strolling their canine in Lake Union Park. The whining of automobile tires zooming alongside Aurora Avenue to the west and Interstate 5 to the east drowned out all pure sounds.

However inside a picket constructing throughout the park, Native voices sang and handmade drums saved time like a heartbeat because the descendants of the lake’s authentic inhabitants welcomed their ancestors with a blessing track. Willard Invoice Jr. led a bunch of drummers and singers in a track handed down in his household for generations. The track reached out to his ancestors, particularly the Duwamish sub-Chief Cheshiahud (Chesh-ee-AH-hood), who as soon as ruled the tribe’s village on the southern shore of Lake Union.

The event was to kick off the creation of a Native Canoe Carving Home that may deliver the wealthy custom of Coast Salish canoe tradition again to XáXu7cHoo, or Little Lake, because the Duwamish name Lake Union.

Jackie Swanson (Muckleshoot, Heat Springs) speaks on the Jan. 6 ground-blessing ceremony of the deliberate Northwest Native Canoe Heart Canoe Carving Home on Lake Union. Beside her is Sovereign Invoice, the voice of Molly of Denali. Video screenshot courtesy of Frank Hopper

“Willard and his youngsters are the fifth great-grandchildren of Cheshiahud, who was the top of the Lake Band of Indians,” the household’s elder, Jackie Swanson, the great-great-granddaughter of Cheshiahud, instructed the gathering. “His territory included Lake Union, Washington, and Sammamish. So I do know he’s glad to see his family members at house singing their songs and greeting their land.”

For greater than 100 years, Native tradition has been absent from the land surrounding Lake Union, changed by the workplaces of tech giants like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Fb. As an alternative of canoes, sightseeing float planes and yachts now skim throughout its floor.

However because of the United Indians of All Tribes Basis, hand-carved canoes from Coast Salish tribes will quickly glide silently once more via the waters of Lake Union. They’ll carry Native crews, known as “canoe households,” binding them collectively into one highly effective motor, an engine of human hearts.

The Canoe Carving Home will function Native canoe-building lessons, carving demonstrations, and storage for Native canoes. Situated on a restored seaside just some blocks from the Area Needle, the Canoe Carving Home will enable Coast Salish canoes to be hand-launched into Lake Union.

Willard Invoice Jr., left, and his household sing a track to bless the bottom of the deliberate Northwest Native Canoe Heart Canoe Carving Home on Jan. 6. Video screenshot courtesy of Frank Hopper

The Canoe Carving Home is half of the deliberate Northwest Native Canoe Heart. Situated beside it is going to be the Welcome Home, which is able to function reveals displaying completely different features of Coast Salish tradition, a gathering house, a present store, and a kitchen and catering facility.

The United Indians of All Tribes Basis raised the $4.7 million building price of the canoe middle with the assistance of Metropolis of Seattle, King County, and federal funds, in response to Govt Director Mike Tulee. However the authentic impetus for a Native canoe middle was direct motion that occurred greater than 50 years in the past, and its calls for have been far higher.

Mike Tulee, govt director of the United Indians of All Tribes Basis, beside a Salish canoe on show on the Dawn Star Indian Cultural Heart. Video screenshot courtesy of Frank Hopper

The Fort Lawton Takeover

“There was a takeover that had taken place on March 8 of 1970,” Tulee says, referring to the invasion and three-week-long occupation of the military base Fort Lawton in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood. “There have been individuals who needed to endure an excellent sacrifice to make it occur.”

The Fort Lawton invasion and occupation was a pivotal second within the historical past of what’s been known as the Purple Energy Motion. The objective was to reclaim the land of the soon-to-be-decommissioned military base and repurpose its 534 acres right into a facility to assist Seattle’s city Native group.

To that finish, many Native leaders from across the Pacific Northwest area, corresponding to Sid Mills, Hank Adams, Ramona Bennett, Bernie Whitebear, and even at the moment imprisoned American Indian Motion warrior Leonard Peltier, organized an invasion of the Fort. An estimated 80 to 120 Native folks participated. Navy police responded and violently arrested the invaders. An occupation camp was arrange simply outdoors the Fort’s most important gate, and two extra takeover makes an attempt have been revamped the next weeks.

The 1970 invasion and occupation of Fort Lawton was a posh and multifaceted occasion. What’s essential right here is the way it resulted within the creation of the United Indians of All Tribes Basis and of the Dawn Star Indian Cultural Heart, which is positioned on a 20-acre web site within what was as soon as Fort Lawton.

“They have been decided to have a cultural, academic, social middle for Native People,” Tulee says. “A part of that, this city Native middle, was to have entry to the water.”

The dream of constructing a Native longhouse with entry to a seaside the place Coast Salish canoe tradition could possibly be rejuvenated languished for years. In 1995, a web site with seaside entry on the southwest nook of Lake Union was chosen. The United Indians of All Tribes Basis, underneath then-Govt Director Bernie Whitebear, struggled to safe funding to construct the Canoe Carving Home. When Whitebear handed on in 2000, progress on the undertaking floor to a halt.

Bruce Arnold of Jones and Jones Architects solutions questions on the Jan. 6 ground-blessing ceremony of the deliberate Northwest Native Canoe Heart Canoe Carving Home. Video screenshot courtesy of Frank Hopper

The undertaking was in limbo till 2017, when Tulee grew to become govt director and took up the banner, approaching metropolis, county, and federal officers to search out building cash. His work was evident on the blessing ceremony as Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal have been honored for his or her work in securing authorities funds for the undertaking.

The canoe middle is a significant image, nevertheless it can’t eclipse the continued struggle for Native sovereignty. The dream of an “Indian Metropolis” on the grounds of the previous fort that might look after Seattle’s displaced Native inhabitants by no means materialized. Dissent arose among the many authentic Fort Lawton invaders. Many needed the land to be returned to the Duwamish tribe, whereas others needed to create a pan-Indian facility that was ruled by a multi-tribal board of Native administrators.

The Duwamish tribe continues to be unrecognized by the federal authorities, although town of Seattle was named after its most well-known Chief, and the tribe signed the Treaty of Level Elliott in 1855. Surprisingly, not one of the tribe’s present leaders was invited to the ground-blessing ceremony.

Cheshiahud (1820-1910), chief of the Lake Band of Duwamish Indians, and his second spouse, Madeline. Element of a print owned by Jackie Swanson

The Final Lake Union Indian

Seattle’s historical past is marred by its therapy of Native People. The primary white explorers introduced smallpox and different infectious illnesses to the world within the late 1700s, devastating the Native inhabitants, wiping out total villages.

Within the mid-1800s, white settlers moved into an space of what’s now Seattle’s Pioneer Sq.. They coexisted with Duwamish villages, and the 2 cultures communicated utilizing a commerce language known as Chinook Jargon, a mix of simplified Chinook, English, and different languages.

However in 1865, town of Seattle handed an ordinance expelling Native folks. Most moved throughout Puget Sound to the Suquamish reservation. Tribal leaders, corresponding to Cheshiahud, recognized to his descendants as “Lake John,” refused to go away. He was properly revered and had turn out to be buddies with lots of the white interlopers, so he was allowed to remain on a small plot of land he owned on Seattle’s Lake Union. However as town grew up round him, the fishing catch he relied on dried up.

Lastly, in 1893, white terrorists burned down the final Duwamish village in what’s now West Seattle. Then, in 1906, Cheshiahud’s second spouse, Madeline, was nearing loss of life, and Cheshiahud bought a few of his property and used the cash to carry a three-day-long potlatch to have a good time her life. The occasion drew buddies and family members from everywhere in the area and was reported on by the Seattle Put up-Intelligencer. It was one of many final genuine expressions of Salish tradition and spirituality to be held in Seattle for a lot of a long time.

After that, Cheshiahud left Seattle. “An excessive amount of home now,” he reportedly mentioned earlier than relocating to the Suquamish reservation, the place he handed away in 1910. Right now, his homestead on the foot of Shelby Avenue is marked by a plaque; a mountain climbing path that circles the lake is known as the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop.

Cheshiahud was adept at carving. He carved his personal canoes and used them to ferry cargo and passengers across the space’s community of rivers, streams, and lakes. He selected the western pink cedar bushes to make his canoes rigorously, performing purification rituals as he harvested them, calling guardian spirits and enlisting their support.

He made small, sporty-sized canoes and massive cargo canoes. After they have been accomplished, they grew to become a part of his household. Their completion and launching was heralded by songs and prayers.

This little doubt appeared quaint to the white interlopers. However in actuality, it spoke to an enormous distinction within the worldviews of the 2 cultures. The white folks needed to personal and management the land, whereas the Duwamish considered the land and its waters as their mom, an enormous interconnected community of pure forces of which they have been merely one half interdependent with all the opposite components.

Whereas the white tradition scarred and coated the land with concrete and asphalt, the Duwamish used what the Earth supplied, a fantastic system of liquid highways that took them and their canoes from the Salish Sea to the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. One tradition has lasted on Earth for greater than 10,000 years, whereas the opposite has almost destroyed it in just some hundred.

Fashionable tribal governments and Native organizations, such because the United Indians of All Tribes Basis, have now turn out to be mired in forms and capitalism and would hardly be recognizable to somebody like Cheshiahud. However the songs sung on Jan. 6 to bless the bottom of the deliberate Canoe Carving Home would have comforted him and reassured him that his tradition and lifeways nonetheless exist, and can hopefully live on lengthy after the towering edifices of recent commerce crumble into mud.


Frank Hopper
, Tlingit, is a contract Native journalist born in Juneau, Alaska, now residing in Tacoma, Washington. His work seems in Final Actual Indians, The Stranger, and Indian Nation Right now. His self-titled YouTube channel options movies about Native points. He could be reached at [email protected] His YouTube hyperlink is

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