Despite having traveled 10 days by water, members of the Beecher Bay canoe family said they weren’t tired Saturday when they arrived in Olympia.
The 14 pullers banged their cedar paddles on the hull of their canoe, and chanted “Beecher Bay” as they pulled up to the dock. Their hands were callused — not blistered — after the journey from Vancouver Island.
“We’ve seen our fair share of blisters, blood and Band-Aids,” said Gordon Elliott. “But I think we’re doing OK right now.”
The canoe, whose name translates to “wave dancer,” was one of about 100to come ashore at the Port of Olympia for the Canoe Journey 2016 Paddle to Nisqually. The pullers on the canoe came from a variety of tribes — but most were related by blood. Skipper Gordon Charles was accompanied by his daughter Dana Campbell and his 6-year-old granddaughter Kahailee Charles. The canoe they used is about five years old, but Gordon Charles has been participating in canoe journeys since 1996.
“It feels good to get out on the water,” he said. “I always look forward to it.”
Other pullers and canoe landing spectators echoed that sentiment as more canoes arrived. Announcer Antone George explained the experience to the crowd.
“When I first started and jumped into a canoe, with all the chants and songs, it’s an unbelievable feeling,” George said.
He said that being on the water is a healing experience.
Canoes arrived from as far south as California and as far north as Alaska. George said one canoe family traveled from Hawaii, and another from New York. As each canoe approached the shore, the crowd applauded, cheered and chanted. About 20,000 people were expected to visit Olympia for the canoes’ arrival.
Some of the pullers sang as they arrived, while others laughed and joked. A canoe full of teenagers from Squaxin Island shouted “shark bait ooh ha ha,” a chant popularized by the movie “Finding Nemo,” as they pulled up to the dock.
Debbie Preston, a spokeswoman for the Nisqually tribe, said many of the 100 canoes that arrived Saturday were new — they hadn’t been seen at previous canoe journeys. All of them arrived safely this year, thanks to the sunny weather.
The canoe journey didn’t end when the last canoe arrived. A week of festivities is planned on the Nisqually reservation, near Yelm. About 10,000 people are expected to attend, with many camping at the site.
Campbell said the week of festivities is like a family reunion. Each time she participates in a canoe journey, she runs into people she hasn’t seen since the last canoe journey.
“I think that’s one of the best parts,” Campbell said.