Hope and Passion: Canoe Blessing and Launching Ceremony
by Dick Wagner
Every day South Lake Union is bustling with 100,000 vehicles entering or leaving. Cranes and scaffolds flourish as 100-year-old wood and brick buildings are demolished and concrete, steel and glass structures rise in their place. But Saturday, February 25, was a day when South Lake Union looked back with hope and passion.
Assembling at the totem pole at the entry to The Center for Wooden Boats, people of many backgrounds, ages and ancestries came together to bless a Native American canoe carved at CWB by about 100 volunteers of all ages and cultures. There were powerful speeches, songs, dances, drumming and tears from the elders and youths of the Haida, Snoqualmie and Nisqually Tribes.
Säädüüts, CWB’s Artist-in-Residence, had supervised the carving of a 40’ canoe from a thousand-year-old cedar log donated by the United Indians of All Tribes. When most of the canoe had been carved into its shape, rot was found at both ends. Säädüüts figured out the means of replacing the ends with old-growth cedar from the Snoqualmie Tribe. It was an engineering feat achieved through vision and persistence.
The canoes of the Northwest coastal and river tribes were spiritual elements of their lives, just as the natives of the plains and mountains worshipped their horses. The Nisqually people had been wishing for a canoe. It was especially needed to keep their culture alive. As a part of the Blessing Ceremony, Säädüüts was adopted by the Nisqually. He cried in thanks for their common beliefs that all cultures can be together.
After the Blessing Ceremony, almost everyone, except the aged and the babies, joined to carry the canoe to the lake. Without orders, the Nisqually kids boarded the canoe, two at a time, taking port and starboard positions at each thwart. The youngest went first, taking the bow position, and Säädüüts last, to the stern. Following thousands of years of protocol, the paddles already were positioned carefully aboard the canoe. All instinctively held their paddles vertically, with the handles down, until Säädüüts gave the starting call and the long, slim canoe glided swiftly past the spectators.
This was a day to be long remembered. The speeches and ceremonial singing, dancing and drumming were as old as the tree-become-canoe. It was a scene that could have happened a thousand years ago when South Lake Union was a landing place for canoes from many tribes, who came for trading. Then, there were two longhouses on the south and west ends of the lake that welcomed the visitors.
There is hope for more blessing and launching ceremonies at South Lake Union. The United Indians of All Tribes are campaigning to raise funds for a longhouse and canoe carving building on the southwest corner of the lake. I can imagine an annual carved native canoe gathering of all tribes on the beach at South Lake Union – a reenactment of the first-ever wooden boat show!