Potlatch at the Point includes blessing and naming of Puyallup Tribe’s canoe

Potlatch at the Point includes blessing and naming of Puyallup  Tribe’s canoe

By Sarah K. Bryant, Puyallup Tribal News

On a sunny day with clear blue skies, against the backdrop of ancestral waters at the canoe landing site — dxʷłalilali ‘place where to come to shore’ — a remarkable event unfolded on Sept. 16.

It was a celebration that brought together the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe in a display of unity, culture and tradition. The occasion was the Potlatch at the Point canoe celebration, an event that held deep significance for both Tribes, echoing the spirit of the historic Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854.

The centerpiece of this gathering was a newly gifted canoe that the Muckleshoot Tribe gave to the Puyallup Tribe during the Paddle to Muckleshoot Canoe Journey. This canoe, a symbol of unity and shared heritage, was poised to receive its name and blessings in a ceremony that resonated with ancestral traditions.

The event commenced with opening remarks from Puyallup Tribe Cultural Assistant Director Clinton McCloud, who expressed his gratitude for the attendees’ presence and acknowledged the significance of the day.

McCloud remarked, “It’s a very integral part in our Indigenous communities to give and receive names. That’s what this gathering is about here today. Today, we have a brand-new canoe and we’re going to be giving our brand new canoe a name.”

The ceremony then turned to spiritual matters with Puyallup Tribe Heritage Division Manager Connie McCloud offering a heartfelt prayer to honor the sacred cedar tree that gave its life to create the beautiful canoe.

“A beautiful, beautiful gift from the Muckleshoot people that they would share their wealth with us,” she said. “Their gift of their forest, the gift of their carvers, the gift of their people that made this canoe and made this generous gift of sharing happen. Thank you to the sacred cedar tree that gave its life to become our beautiful canoe.”

The ceremony emphasized the importance of giving and receiving names in Indigenous communities. Names are bestowed with great care, reflecting the individual’s traits and strengths, and they serve as a way for ancestors to find their descendants in the afterlife.

Clinton McCloud explained the importance of a naming ceremony saying, “How and why we give our names, one of the things Elders talk about, our ancestors keep on going all the way down, and that’s another important reason we have our names and it’s announced out so we can all hear it and also our ancestors can hear it. Your ancestors will hear your name and will be looking for you when it’s your time. So, when we graduate onto the other side and we leave the physical bodies that our ancestors will have a way to find us.” This ceremony sought to instill a name for the newly gifted canoe that would carry its own unique spirit.

Witnesses played a vital role in this event, tasked with observing and recounting the proceedings. Among these witnesses were Puyallup Tribal Member Ali Z. Hayward as well as Muckleshoot representatives and community members.

A significant highlight of the celebration involved brushing off the canoe using cedar boughs, an act laden with symbolism. As the lead dancers circled the canoe, attendees followed suit, brushing away any negativity and ensuring the canoe’s spiritual purity.

Clinton McCloud explained, “The cedar boughs come from the mountains in the Snoqualmie area. What we’re doing is we’re brushing off the canoe. We have our songs, that take care of us, our songs are prayer songs. And the cedar boughs are part of the responsibility of the cedar tree, our surroundings. One of my spiritual Elders talked about how the plants and the trees have this gift to be able to brush things off in this manner, to be able to take any of these bad things off that didn’t belong here. And the song helps with that and the cedar boughs. You don’t necessarily have to touch every inch of the canoe. It’s spiritual work that happens, and when we come together like this it just makes us stronger the more people we have here.”

The culmination of the celebration was the naming of the canoe: stəx̌ʷgʷiɫ “Stuck River Canoe.” This name was carefully chosen to honor the historical significance of the river as a portage area, a path that allowed for easier travel between different waters.

Explaining how the name was chosen, Clinton McCloud said, “When Muckleshoot called us down onto the floor to give the canoes away, I already had a name for our canoe: Stuck River. Our Puyallup River builds at the mouth, and it goes up to Mount Rainier. We have the White River and the Green River that come down into the Seattle area. A long time ago, we’d have folks up river on our Puyallup River, if they needed to get up into the Muckleshoot area, they needed to go up the Green River and they could take Stuck River.” Amber Hayward, director of the Puyallup Tribal Language Program, worked with Clinton McCloud to figure out the name for Stuck River in Lushootseed.

Council members shared their thoughts and appreciation for the Muckleshoot Tribe’s generous gift and the enduring cultural significance of such an event. The ceremony paid homage to the historical connections and solidarity among the Tribes in the region.

Council Chairman Bill Sterud Said, “I raise my hands to my brothers and sisters in Muckleshoot that presented the Puyallup Tribe this amazing canoe. It will be in our hearts forever.”

Vice Chairwoman Sylvia Miller said, “This canoe was a tree that gave itself to us. It is a gift that will bring joy to many generations. Canoes have been used by us as transportation for centuries for trade, and to help provide food to our families. The magnitude of this canoe is so significant.”

Councilwoman Annette Bryan stated, “It was a great honor to receive our new canoe from the Muckleshoot Tribe at the 2023 Canoe Journey. The journey was so meaningful because we had to wait until the pandemic was over to get together. The canoe is very significant because it represents our Warrior people who fought for our rights. Our Medicine Creek Treaty Tribes are so much stronger together than we are apart. I love the resurgence of our canoes on the water. The water is healing, and the canoe is such a good teacher. We paddle with our ancestors, while taking care of the present, to be well for our future.”

Councilman James Rideout remarked about the gift from the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. “What a gesture today to have such a gift to help people in a spiritual way that has so much significance in our community,” he said. “I am forever thankful for Muckleshoot and what they’ve done here for Puyallup. Our Elders a long time ago, this was their way of life, this was their travel. This was their way of passage and the collection of salmon. We’re an urban Tribe, we struggle. We have a hard time, but when our people make it back to our culture, canoes and that paddle, that spirit, that prayer, that pull — it changes us as people. I see a better way of life for someone down the road.”

The historical significance of the Medicine Creek Treaty was not lost on the speakers. Councilwoman Anna Bean stated, “Almost 168 years ago to the day from when we were gifted this, was when the Medicine Creek Treaty Tribes came together to fight. The significance of when we were gifted this canoe is it was right across the river … from where those battles began. How they laid out this process and to gift all the Medicine Creek Treaty Tribes in this way, it’s one of the most powerful things I’ve been a part of. It’s not just a piece of cedar. It’s not just a gift, it’s so much more than that; it’s medicine.”

Councilwoman Monica Miller said about the gift, “It was really nice because of our story of how we got to the rivers to Muckleshoot and that we went through Stuck River. It was a great honor to receive this gift. They did a good job naming it and they took the time and effort to recognize their fellow Natives and brothers and sisters.”

Councilman Fred Dillon said, “First and foremost, I raise my hands and thank the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe for the amazing canoe gift they gifted our Puyallup Tribe and our Canoe Family with at the last Canoe Journey. I can’t wait to see her out there next year full of Tribal members that have not had a chance to be out there yet, to experience that awesome healing and good medicine you get when you are on the water paddling on our Ancestral waterways.”

In closing, the event emphasized the importance of preserving and passing down cultural traditions and stories. The canoe symbolizes the unity and shared heritage of the Puyallup and Muckleshoot Tribes, carrying forward the spirit of their ancestors.

The Potlatch at the Point Canoe Celebration was a day filled with cultural significance, unity, and gratitude, reminding all in attendance of the importance of their ancestral waters, the gift of giving and receiving, and the enduring legacy of Indigenous traditions.