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A Native Journey

Posted Nov 14 2011 1:02pm
Native American, Canoe Journey, Muckleshoot Tribe

Layla Yamabe, Quinault Nation Muckleshoot Canoe Family

Today I welcome my close friend and neighbor, American Native, Layla Yamabe, for an interview during Native American Heritage Month.

Layla, thanks for joining To Your Health to give us an insight into living within your Native culture. Please introduce yourself:

My name is Layla Marie Yamabe and I’m enrolled with the Quinault Indian Nation. I grew up in Renton, WA., and they call me an “urban Indian” because I was raised in an urban area, away from the “Rez” or Reservation.

Was Native heritage always a part of your lifestyle?

No, it was not. My mom took my sisters and me to one of the bigger pow-wows around Seattle when we were young, but aside from that she did not pass down anything that was truly Native.

How did you become re-connected with the tribe?

I became reconnected with Natives two years ago when I started going to Northwest Indian College at the Muckleshoot site. There is a brand new college there where I enrolled and met many Muckleshoot tribal members who informed me about some free classes provided by the tribe. So in addition to pursuing my degree in Native Environmental Science, the extra classes were cedar bark weaving classes and I learned how to make cedar hats, arm bands, and headbands out of cedar. I also enrolled in gathering classes through Northwest Indian College where we learned how to gather native plants and turn them into medicine. From my connections there, I was introduced to people from the Muckleshoot Canoe Family. The Canoe Family and Canoe Journey changed my life.

What is the Canoe Journey and how did it change your life?

The Canoe Journey, or Tribal Journey, is a waterway journey that Natives from Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California take each year in traditional canoes. Primarily these are Salish Sea tribes, but some Natives from Brazil joined us on the journey this year as well. Typically, each group, or canoe family, starts the journey from their home port and ends at the home of the host. This was my first journey and my canoe family, the Muckleshoot Canoe Family, started the journey early at Squaxin Island in the southwestern part of the Puget Sound, and we traveled our way north to Swinomish near LaConner, WA. We traveled by canoe during the day and celebrated/sang/ate/danced at night. We left on July 17th and arrived at Swinomish by July 25th. When we got to Swinomish, we were welcomed with days of celebrations, food, singing and dancing along with about 15,000 other tribal members. Each tribal family thanked the host for allowing us to arrive upon their shores, by singing, dancing, and sharing gifts with the host tribe. The host thanks each tribal family and in turn, shares gifts with them. Some of these gifts include sacred songs which cannot be sung by any other tribe until they are given as a gift. We were given the gift of a song, “Eagle Spirit Paddle Song,” by Sacred Water tribe after loaning them a canoe. It’s a beautiful song and we were moved to receive such a gift.

What kind of preparation is involved for the tribal members before they set off on the journey? 

Beadwork of salmon

My Canoe Family started practicing in the spring for the summer journey. Preparation includes physical work-outs in addition to water training and safety. We take one of our canoes out on a lake or in Puget Sound and practice for an hour or two at a time every week. We have weekly Canoe Family meetings from spring to fall and meet twice a month during the winter. During these meetings, we take care of business, eat dinner together, practice our songs and dances. I also learned beading and made a salmon bead design for my canoe vest.

How did this impact your life?

Thousands of Natives and non-Natives participate in the journey. The journey is a physical, spiritual, and cultural event. It takes a lot of strength to be a “puller” on a canoe, and pull, or stroke, for hours every day. Most of us pray and use our spirituality to gain strength. We are gathering just like our ancestors did and traveling the same waterways our ancestors traveled. Another great thing about the journey is that so many different tribes reunite and we get to meet new people and learn other tribes/family’s songs and dances.

The Canoe Journey changed my life! I have a biological family and now I have a Canoe Family. We became very close to each other, I now see them as my brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles, cousins, etc… I learned for the first time how to pray on the journey–it came to me one night during meditation, through powerful visions/dreams… When I felt weak on the canoe, I prayed to my ancestors and sang the songs, and leaned on my canoe family for strength. I met the love of my life on this journey, and that has certainly changed my life.

Canoe Journey, Northwest tribes

The annual Canoe Journey is an important cultural event for NW tribal nations

Will you go on the Canoe Journey next year?

I wouldn’t miss the Canoe Journey for anything, so of course I will go next year! I love being a part of keeping this Native tradition alive and my Canoe Family is so important to me. I want my kids to know the strength and knowledge of our people and the traditions that keep us strong. I am so proud of my Canoe Family.

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