Diana White reflects on her week with this summer’s Paddle to Muckleshoot Canoe Journey

A Native canoe passes through Elliott Bay. (Photo courtesy of Paddle to Muckleshoot Journey)

Diana White is known for the roles she has played over the years as a community leader and public servant. These include her years of service on the Edmonds School Board and her work with the Teachers of Color Foundation. But she is perhaps best known for her connection with, and advocacy, for our region’s Native Americans, specifically her efforts to celebrate, share and keep alive the traditions of the Coast Salish People.

Diana White pauses for a photo after landing at Suquamish.

An enrolled member of the Prairie Band of Potawatomi Indians and also of Cherokee descent, White’s Native American ancestry is a defining piece of who she is — her grandparents met at an Indian boarding school in Oklahoma.

This year’s Paddle to Muckleshoot journey was the largest in recent years, returning to its traditional size after two years of smaller, more local events due to COVID. This year saw more than 100 canoes and canoe families participating. Canoe families from around the Salish Sea and from as far away as Alaska and Los Angeles took part, covering hundreds of miles across the breadth and length of the Salish Sea and the Washington coast stretching from the Quinault reservation on the Pacific Coast to Coquitlam near Vancouver, B,C, to Squaxin Island near Tacoma.

Because the various canoes put in at different locations, each tribe or canoe family had different mileages – but everyone ended their journey at Alki where the Muckleshoot Tribe hosted the final landing.

This year’s Paddle to Muckleshoot Canoe Journey covered the length and breadth of the Salish Sea and the Washington Pacific Coast. While no canoes traveled the entire route — each canoe family put in at a different location – all ended up at the Muckleshoot host area. (Map courtesy of Paddle to Muckleshoot Journey)

This was White’s third canoe journey. Her earlier two experiences were during the abbreviated events of the COVID years, when she paddled just with the Blue Heron Canoe Family. This year’s effort was her first full event when the full complement of tribes and canoe families were present.

“This year I was involved with two different canoe families,” White recalled. “I again joined with the Blue Heron Canoe Family, and the second was helping University of Washington students form a new canoe family for their very first journey! So much is involved in starting a new family, including having access to a canoe, organizing all the people, learning new songs, gathering supplies and planning navigation to get the canoe to the next destination. They were fortunate to be gifted the Willipa Spirit Canoe from Marylin Oliver Bard, whose father and brother were legends in Canoe Journey and at UW.”

The Blue Heron Canoe Family raises the banner.

White’s journey with the Blue Heron Canoe Family began on July 17, when they put in at Mukilteo heading for Langley, the first leg of their journey.

“We spent three nights in Langley, then paddled to Lopez Island for another three nights, and finally to Lummi where we joined the official tribal journey on July 23,” she continued. “When we arrived there were 32 canoes, families and support crews already present. It was incredible just to be there and experience meeting and interacting with all the different canoe families from so many places. Just standing in the bathroom line one day I met a family from Alaska who had already been on the water for 21 days!

“I was a ‘puller’, meaning I was in the canoe paddling from Mukilteo to Langley, Lopez to Lummi, Swinomish to Cama and Tulalip to Suquamish,” she continued. “We also did some side trips to Friday Harbor and the San Juan Islands. I estimate I put in about 80 miles in the canoe. When I wasn’t actually paddling, I was on ground crew setting up tents, cooking and driving gear to the next location.”

Diana White after landing at Cama Beach on Camano Island.

In recalling her experiences, White was most impressed with the gifting and generosity shown by all, “but especially the hosting tribes” who provided campsites, bathrooms, showers, and two meals a day for all canoe families and support crews.

“An important part of the journey is providing the opportunity for each tribe to share songs, dance and tributes,” she explained. “Tribes who host the landings spend considerable money effort to provide all this. For example, the Suquamish Tribe hosted two nights prior to the landing at Alki that included a huge seafood bake with salmon, clams, oysters and crab – it was all you could eat and then some!”

Suquamish tribal members prepare a festive seafood bake while hosting the canoe journey.

But for White, the crowning example of this generosity came during their two-night stay at Suquamish, where the tribe hosted a festive seafood bake with salmon, clams, oysters and crab, followed by the tribe gifting four canoes and trailers to other tribes.

Another example came on the last night of the journey hosted by the Muckleshoot Tribe, when tribal members circulated through the night among the campers, passing out blankets, cedar hats, beading, artwork, canned salmon and more — always paying attention that the elders and the youngest are served first.

“It was incredible and humbling at the same time to witness and receive the generosity of the host tribes,” she added.

Campers were treated to a rainbow near La Conner while being hosted by the Swinomish.

But beyond the generosity, White was particularly impressed with the involvement of young people.

“To hear them speak their own native language as they introduced themselves at landings was so meaningful,” she recalls. “Canoe journeys are a cultural revitalization, and passing down traditions and language to the young people is such an important part of this. I would estimate between a third and half of the campsites were occupied by young people under age 25. It was so inspiring to see the youngsters confidently join in with song and dance.”

Learn more about this summer’s Paddle to Muckleshoot Canoe Journey at the event website, where you will find maps, photos and videos covering the full journey.

— By Larry Vogel

— All photos courtesy Diana White unless otherwise noted

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.