As many as 20,000 people expected for arrival of tribal canoes

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As many as 20,000 people expected for arrival of tribal canoes



By Lisa Pemberton

Out of the woods, a temporary city has begun to take shape on the Nisqually reservation near Yelm.

are building nearly a dozen white tents — some as large as 50 by 125
feet — on a nearly 40-acre site where the weeklong Canoe Journey 2016
Paddle to Nisqually “protocol” celebration will take place. Tribal
officials estimate the event, a week after the Canoe Journey’s landing
ceremony in Olympia, will attract as many as 10,000 people to the
reservation. Many are expected to camp out and stay in the area for the
duration of the culturally rich event.

Nisqually tribal grounds and cemetery maintenance staff secure the
13-½-foot welcome pole at the entrance to the protocol area for the
2016 Paddle to Nisqually Canoe Journey.

Steve Bloom

“It’s coming together around here,” Nisqually tribal chairman
Farron McCloud said Tuesday as the tribe’s 13-and-a-half-foot-tall
hand-carved welcome figure was hoisted into place at the entrance of the
protocol site. “I’m loving it.”

The welcome figure recently underwent a makeover with fresh paint to prepare for the flood of guests.

least 120 canoes hailing from tribes from Alaska, Canada and around the
Northwest are expected to land at the tip of the Port of Olympia
peninsula on Saturday as part of the 2016 Paddle to Nisqually Canoe Journey.
Some of the dugout wooden canoes have been making their way along the
traditional “saltwater highway” for nearly two weeks, with daily stops
hosted by coastal tribes, including the Quinault, the Nooksack and the

The centuries-old tradition of Northwest tribes all but
disappeared until it was revived in 1989 with the Paddle to Seattle,
which was part of the state’s Centennial celebration.

It’s now an
annual tradition that promotes sobriety (it’s strictly a drug- and
alcohol-free event) as well as spirituality and community, organizers

“We’re just trying to rebuild our ancestral ways,” said Maury Sanchez, a member of the Nisqually canoe family.

Canoe Journey is helping keep Northwest tribal languages, songs and
stories alive, according to Nisqually tribal council secretary Sheila
McCloud. Ancient songs and dances have been returned, and younger tribal
members are learning tribal languages as they participate in the event.

Because local tribes are so closely related, the canoe journey atmosphere can resemble a family reunion.

“This is a big part of our history,” Sheila McCloud said. “This is how we lived, and this is part of our culture.”

tribe has been preparing for the event for more than a year. It
partnered with the Port of Olympia and the city of Olympia for the
landing ceremony on Saturday, which organizers say is expected to draw
18,000 to 20,000 participants and spectators.

Many of the landing
logistics — including some road and boat ramp closures in the area —
will be similar to those the port and city used in 2012, when the
Squaxin Island Tribe hosted the Canoe Journey, according to Jennie
Foglia-Jones, a spokeswoman for the port.

“We’re kind of just using that model because it worked well in 2012,” she said.

Here’s what you need to know about the landing event:

The landing ceremony, in which canoe families ask for permission to
come ashore, often in their native language, is expected to take several
hours. The event opens at 10 a.m. and the canoes are expected to begin
arriving about 1 p.m. In 2012, the landing ceremony was finished by
about 7 p.m., Foglia-Jones said. This year, volunteers are scheduled to
stay at the event until 9 p.m.

Parking and free shuttle:
The public can find parking in designated downtown parking lots or on
the street. Access to Marine Drive will be restricted beginning at the
Marine Drive-Jefferson Street intersection and the Market
Street-Franklin Street intersection, where a free shuttle service will
begin at 10 a.m. The DASH bus will run its regular route with stops at
the Olympia Farmers Market.

Seating: The port is
setting up bleachers that will hold about 3,000 people. The seating is
not shaded, and priority should be given to tribal members, Foglia-Jones

“If you want to bring your own chairs, that’s a great idea,” she said.

Launch ramp-moorage closures:
The Swantown launch ramp will be closed on Saturday. The nearest launch
ramp is Boston Harbor Marina. Swantown and Port Plaza guest moorage
will be reserved for support boats from Friday through Aug. 8.

Boat launch ramp parking: The Swantown boat launch ramp parking lot will remain closed through Tuesday (Aug. 2).

Limited access: Access
will be monitored by local law enforcement from 8 a.m. until the event
is over on Saturday. Access will be denied to those without a valid
Swantown Marina Parking Pass.

Vendors: Food and
merchant vendors will be available at the site, and the Anthony’s
Hearthfire Grill will remain open, with reservations recommended.

Green event: Attendees are encouraged to bring their own water bottles. “We are going to have water refilling stations,” Foglia-Jones said.

Expect sun:
The National Weather Service’s forecast for Olympia on Saturday calls
for partly sunny with a high in the upper 70s. There isn’t going to be a
shaded area for viewing that’s available to the general public. “Bring
hats and sunscreen and stuff to keep yourself comfortable,” Foglia-Jones

Cultural meaning: Although there will be
vendors and tribal songs and dances, it’s important to remember that the
landing event is a cultural ceremony, not a festival, Foglia-Jones

There may be times when cameras and video devices aren’t allowed, organizers said.

really is the tribe’s event and it’s a very cultural and spiritual
event and they’re kind enough to allow people to come witness it,”
Foglia-Jones added.

Follow along: According to a
map posted on the canoe journey Facebook page, the canoes are scheduled
to arrive at Muckleshoot on Wednesday and Puyallup on Thursday. After a
one-night Puget Sound Marina stopover, they are scheduled to arrive at
the Port of Olympia at about 1 p.m. Saturday. Many of the events are
scheduled to be livestreamed by the tribe.

There are still numerous opportunities to volunteer and get involved with the preparations. To learn more about the Canoe Journey and its related events, go to

It’s Paddle to Nisqually 2016! Hope to see area folks on Saturday. :D