The wooden canoe continues to be an important material symbol for the Chinook. There are many types of canoes and many of the Chinook were, and still are, skilled woodworkers. Canoes facilitate trade as forms of transportation and they embody symbols of power and family heritage through artistic design. So canoes are practical and utilitarian, but they are also artistic and expressive.The importance of canoes has been included in the historical descriptions of the Chinook people from the early European American maritime sea traders to the overland fur traders. On their return to the East, the Lewis and Clark expedition stole a Chinook canoe, a theft that has not been forgotten by the tribe. The recent return of the canoe brought increased public attention to the Chinook and their canoe-based traditions. Today, the Chinook participate in an important contemporary Canoe Journey, an annual event where northwest tribes meet for extended multi-day canoe travels to various Native communities. The Chinook participate in the events and it has become an important way to bring the community together and revive and pass on many of the canoe traditions, as well as a way to be in touch with the landscape from the perspective of water travel.

Personal Stories

Sam Robinson talks about the Chinook canoe community:

Well, we got more canoes now. We can put a lot of people in the water. Figured Klmin will hold sixteen pullers and six passengers. Ituxt, Ray’s canoe, will hold twelve pullers. Squakwal can hold six pullers and then there’s family canoes. So you can put quite a few people in the water, you know, for a few days.

Sam Robinson’s experience at Canoe Journey:

That’s one thing about the journeys is the presence of the ancestors is so, so strong, you know, not only when you’re out there dancing but when you’re on the waters, you know, you know they’re with you. There’s been times where you just strongly know they’re with you. Like when we leftTacoma to go to Seattle, you have to go through the [Tacoma] Narrows, and the night before we would always have a skipper’s meeting. And what the skipper’s meeting usually is, it’s all the canoe skippers meeting with the local people, the local fishermen that fish in that area that know the waters really well, and tribal members from that area that know the waters really well, and they talk about what to expect the next day on the journey.

And they told us that it was pretty much mandatory that everybody wear life jackets when going through the Narrows, because of the steep canyons, the water boils when the tide comes in and out and it’s pretty rough. And we were pulling, and unfortunately you could see the bridge for like hours before you get there. [all laugh] You keep digging and digging, it’s like,‘Yeah, there’s a bridge, there’s a bridge.’And just before we reached the Narrows, you know, there was this light fog on the water and that light fog on the water is our ancestors that travel with us, you know. And when we got to the Narrows it was like a lake. It was flat. It was glass, as we went through there. So we felt that our ancestors were with us, you know, that day, as we went through.

Sam Robinson’s experience paddling the commercial shipping channel:

…it’s kind of unique. The shipping channels is really, you know, that’s when you really know you’re small, because you’re just this little twenty-six foot canoe, and there’s like freighters and ferries and barges and all kinds of traffic that you’re trying to avoid out there. You know they can’t see you; you know, they might see the flag on your support boat and at that time our support boat wasn’t much bigger than us.[laughs] Yeah, you know you’re small. You know you’re small out there.

Anna May Strong talks about the fate of Uncle Scott’s canoe:

Anna May has a photograph of her Uncle Scott with a carved canoe. Her grandfather Clark commissioned the carving from Chief Taholah. Each figure had a different face, perhaps representing war paint. Anna May took the picture.

When Uncle Scott died, everyone wanted the canoe. Aunt Hope gave it to a couple who had a museum at Ocean Shores and it was there for a number of years. Then the couple decides they’re selling their museum. Everything that’s in there, they’re selling off at a big auction in Seattle. Albert went down to it. Everybody said,“go and get that canoe back.” It was, he said he left the auction when it reached $5,000, which would be nothing today. Uh, so we never knew, some said Albert got it, he’s just saying it was too high and he just left.We don’t know for sure.

Sam Robinson’s on cultural revitalization:

I talk about Lewis and Clark, you know, or Clueless and Lark, as I like to refer them to; you know, I mean they didn’t do much for us two hundred years ago, but two hundred years later they did a lot for us because they really made people want our culture, and so it made us step up to the plate and start learning more; you know, so getting our songs out there and being in the canoe and traveling. It gave us the canoe, gave us the Plankhouse; you know, it gave us a lot. And then it inspired people to actually get out there and do these things, and now we’ve got more of an interest; you know, more people making paddles to get in the canoe. And more people wanting to learn how to gather and weave and more people making drums and drumming songs and, you know, so I think two hundred years later they did, they gave back to us. I’m appreciative of that, because had they not commemorated that, what would have happened? Would we have just stayed the same? Would we not have gotten out there? “So, and then having that canoe, of course, opened up the pathway to the journeys you know, and I wish we’d get more people involved in the journeys and I’m hoping that gets stronger.