Reclaiming Salish Canoe Culture in the Shadow of Tech Giants

Architectural drawing of the planned Northwest Native Canoe Center
Architectural drawing of the planned Northwest Native Canoe Center

Seattle’s South Lake Union may be home to Facebook, Google, and Amazon, but now, thanks to Native rights activists, it will once again be home to hand-carved canoes, too.

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Jan. 6 was a typical overcast day in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. Few of the tech workers from the nearby offices of Amazon, Google, and Microsoft were outside at lunchtime. Only a few could be seen walking their dogs in Lake Union Park. The whining of car tires zooming along Aurora Avenue to the west and Interstate 5 to the east drowned out all natural sounds.

But inside a wooden building within the park, Native voices sang and handmade drums kept time like a heartbeat as the descendants of the lake’s original inhabitants welcomed their ancestors with a blessing song. Willard Bill Jr. led a group of drummers and singers in a song passed down in his family for generations. The song reached out to his ancestors, in particular the Duwamish sub-Chief Cheshiahud (Chesh-ee-AH-hood), who once governed the tribe’s village on the southern shore of Lake Union.

The occasion was to kick off the creation of a Native Canoe Carving House that will bring the rich tradition of Coast Salish canoe culture back to XáXu7cHoo, or Little Lake, as the Duwamish call Lake Union. Jackie Swanson (Muckleshoot, Warm Springs) speaks at the Jan. 6 ground-blessing ceremony of the planned Northwest Native Canoe Center Canoe Carving House on Lake Union. Beside her is Sovereign Bill, the voice […]

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