July 16, 2008
image: 20070726_tribaljourney07_0064crop.jpg (cc) sarahruthvg
A couple of days back, I went to lunch with a friend from work. Typically, we pick up food at a fast food joint and hang out, but this time around, we decided to stop by Solo Point in Steilacoom. It's a little beach and boat launch point that's close enough to my work to enjoy on my lunch break, and there's usually no one out there, so it's quiet and relaxing.
It wasn't quiet this time. Instead, we saw the entire place packed with cars, so I assumed that there may have been some boat races -- it's that time of year, after all. I asked a passing woman what the event was, and I was told that it was an annual tribal canoe ceremony, where representatives from several tribes across the coast row their canoes on a 14 day trip from Squaxin all the way to Cowichan, Canada. At various places along the way, they are involved in an ancient welcoming ceremony, where people on the shore grant them permission to step onto the dry land where they can stock up on food and supplies, as well as participate in local tribal celebrations.
We stayed and watched as the canoes approached the land, rounded themselves into a circle, and came ashore, each with a representative of their tribe announcing who they were, and requesting assistance from the people on the shore. It was mesmerizing, really.
Culture is fascinating to me. The idea of being a part of an ancient tradition that's passed down through generations is strange and wonderful; the amount of meaning and shared identity... it's mind blowing. I've never experienced anything quite like it. I tend to shy away from the notion of national identity on account of my disdain for nationalism at any level. However, at times I wonder if it's possible to enjoy the feeling of belonging to something larger than yourself without at the same time feeling as though your group or cultural identity isn't somehow superior. Can one straddle that line, as it relates to culture? I don't know. It is very interesting to me, though.