Paddle to Bella Bella

In 2013 I made a commitment to myself to join in on the journey to the Heiltsuk Nation for the Paddle to Bella Bella in 2014.  I made the decision while attending the landing and protocol at the Paddle to Quinault.  A challenge was proposed to get 100 hand drums to beat in unison. People began to gather on the basketball court in the community center with their hand drums.  The crowd achieved a harmonious unity from the chaos.  Then a man name Frank Brown spoke from the Heiltsuk nation, he spoke about resilience.  He said something that stuck with me, “We as Native people have come back from the bring of extinction, none of you here today will ever be ashamed of who you are… again.”  Even though I had not felt like I had been living my life in shame, the words resonated in a powerful way, and the statement prompted me to make it to Bella Bella in 2014.

I joined the Puyallup Canoe family and began going to weekly meetings. I connected with wonderful people, who were dedicated to the journey, self improvement, and their community.  The journey would take the Puyallup family five weeks to paddle the 600 nautical miles.  My plan was join to up with the family in it’s last week after my summer job of selling fireworks wrapped up.  I caught up with them on the northern tip of Vancouver Island while vicious storm kept the canoes in harbor.  As we waited out the storm my fortunes shifted and I was drafted to the elder canoe from Suqwamish, Spirit of the Raven.

While paddling on the Spirit of the Raven canoe we traveled through beautiful waters off the west coast of British Columbia in Canada. A region which is known for pristine waters. The indigenous community that travels these waters is bound by a pressing and important narrative,  the encroaching pollution on these sacred waters caused by fossil fuel infrastructure.  Two flash points were present at the paddle.  In Washington, the Lummi’s opposition to, and ultimate victory over, the Cherry Point Coal Terminal. And in British Columbia the Northern Gateway Project by Enbridge.  The struggle with these projects was visible through signs, petitions, and the powerful cultural events honoring the traditional way of life, and ancestral waterways. Both of which were being threatened by these notoriously clumsy and polluting energy projects.

Remarkably I had the honor of paddling into Bella Bella for the final landing ceremony.  We traveled with honored elders of the Suquamish tribe.  I stayed to witness the seven day ceremony which would include singing, dancing and honorable acts of gratitude.  These photos visualize a beautiful purposefull awakening of culture among indigenous people.  I am grateful to participate in this way.

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