August 14, 2009

Pacific Voices Valued Objects: Coast Salish Voyaging Canoe

Local resident Peg Deam, a member of the Coast Salish community, contributed to both the development of the Pacific Voices exhibit at the Burke Museum and the creation of the accompanying book featuring personally significant cultural objects from communities of the Pacific. Peg Dream chose the voyaging canoe as the object that represents the richness of Coast Salish culture for her.

This is a photo of a Coast Salish canoe model from the Burke’s Ethnology Collection.

“When the cedar tree comes down, it is transformed into another life-form—a canoe. The canoe carries the people. It carries the songs, the language, the traditional protocol. It carries the salmon, the cattails—everything that’s collected. The paddles represent the people who participate and interact with the cedar. It becomes part of the whole culture.”
-- Peg Deam

In preparation for the Washington State centennial in 1989, the Native American Canoe Project was organized to rekindle the art of making cedar voyaging canoes, and with it the skills and stamina for canoeing. Hundreds of Native people from seventeen Western Washington tribes participated in the project . In the summer of 1989, a 170-mile voyage commenced from the Quileute Reservation along the western Washington coast and culminated in the “Paddle to Seattle”—a dramatic flotilla of thirty canoes that were paddled across the inland Puget Sound from Suquamish to Seattle. Thus was born the modern Northwest Coast canoeing revival.

The canoe represents carrying the culture. With the paddles inside, it also represents carrying the people—from the past to the present and into the future.

This text is excerpted from Chapter 14 of Pacific Voices: Keeping our Cultures Alive.