Kalispel Tribe to embark on traditional canoe ride

By Jane Fritz
Reader Contributor

Last summer, at Summer Solstice, members of The Upper Columbia Plateau Tribes, which includes the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, joined by their Canadian relations, paddled newly constructed dugout canoes — fashioned from ancient cedar trees donated by one of the tribes on the Northwest Coast —  from their respective reservations to a traditional tribal landing and gathering site along the Columbia River at Kettle Falls, Wash.

Canoes landing. Photo by Jane Fritz.

The tribes hadn’t canoed and gathered there in 86 years. This recent journey resurrected a tradition that had once been essential to the way of life of these Interior tribes. The Coeur d’Alene Tribal paddlers came the farthest, traveling for 10 days to get to Kettle Falls, once the second-most important salmon fishery in the Pacific Northwest. This essential source of salmon as food for thousands of people was inundated and destroyed by the building of Grand Coulee Dam. It altered the lives of tribal peoples of the region forever. Hundreds of Native people and others waited onshore for the eight large, dugout canoes and smaller sturgeon-nose canoes to arrive.

Spiritual leaders spoke about the primary reason for the journey: to demonstrate the need to bring the salmon back to the Upper Columbia River region. Elders shared stories of the past and their ancestors stories of the salmon being in this part of the river.

This Thursday, the Upper Columbia Tribes will paddle again, this time invited by the Kalispel Tribe. They will begin at their aboriginal village site at Sandpoint City Beach — qp qepe, Salish for “place of sand.” They will paddle for three days and 51 miles to their reservation across the Pend Oreille River from Usk, Wash., in time for their 42nd annual powwow celebration. The Coeur d’Alene, Kootenai, Sinixt or Lakes, Spokane and Colville Confederated Tribal paddlers are expected to join the Kalispel paddlers. They have invited nonnative paddlers as well, to come along for a little ways or the entire journey.

The reason for this paddle is “Remember the Water.” Living downriver from Lake Pend Oreille, they want to draw attention to the vital need to care for our lake and rivers, as water is life. I plan to be in my cedar canoe, built 41 years ago by my brother, along with two friends as we share in this special and history-making sojourn with our Native friends.

If you have a kayak or canoe and would like to take part in some or all of the event, or would like to support the tribes with your attendance, come to Sandpoint City Beach at 9 a.m. to see them off on their trip. Also, follow the Kalispel Tribe Facebook page for updates.

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