Tulalips’ Canoe Family sings, dances and pulls together

They’re members of what’s called the Canoe Family, but they spend much of their time on dry land, drumming, singing, dancing.

Sometimes their hands are outstretched, cloaked in black cloth appliqued with bright red wings. From the side to the front, their arms swing forward. Their feet hop, but just barely, as if they may take flight. An ode to the eagle.

Sometimes they stand in an arc, when they’re asked to stand before an audience out in the community. They seem to prefer singing close together. Children, teenagers, adults, grasping drums of all sizes, made of stretched hide. Elbows straighten, then bend suddenly as sticks strike drums with a hollow thud.

A rhythm builds from one drum, drummed once.

The arms of the Canoe Family are strong, from the hours they spend paddling across the water. Those are the quiet times, training for the annual journey to visit their cousins north, south, west, on rivers, bays, ocean.

The tiniest of the Tulalips are taught to drum, sing, dance — and pull. Like the drums, paddles come in many sizes.

The work of tradition is for everyone.

About the Canoe Family

The Tulalip Canoe Family: The family travels each year on the Canoe Journey, a multitribe event that begins in early summer and lasts for weeks as canoes from Oregon, Washington and British Columbia travel to a potlatch hosted by a different tribe each year. Tulalip hosted the potlatch in 2003. The family is training for this summer’s journey, which will go to Cowichan, B.C.

The songs: The family sings traveling songs while they’re on the water. Some are ancient, some are modern, all are in a traditional style. When choppy swells form, the family sings the “hard paddle” song. They also sing welcome and hospitality songs at community events.

The dances: Some dances are ancient, others were created by young Canoe Family members. They were designed to go with the canoe songs.

The beginning: The Canoe Family became active when Coast Salish tribes began the annual canoe journey in 1989. The family’s work has since expanded to help troubled tribal teens and share Tulalip culture with non-Indians.

Public performances: The Canoe Family gets frequent requests to perform for local government and community events. The family performed Thursday evening at the opening of “Generations: The Art &Culture of the Tulalip Tribes,” an exhibit of Tulalip art at the Arts Council of Snohomish County in Everett.

Source: Ray Fryberg, a Canoe Family leader

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