Tribes welcome visitor who brings a canoe

Posted: Friday, March 18, 2005

PORT ANGELES, Wash. — When Gerald ''Woody'' Woodside brought a handmade canoe to the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribal Center, he might have expected a word of thanks.

But tribal members who had assembled for a meeting there celebrated his surprise gift in traditional ways — singing and dancing for an hour and presenting him with gifts in return.

Woodside was a stranger from Port Gamble when he showed up at the center Saturday with a 21-foot cedar-and-fiberglass canoe atop his truck. The interior is built of cedar strips and the outside is shiny black fiberglass with bright orange trim.

He wanted to donate the canoe to youth of the Lower Elwha Klallam, calling the gift simply ''a good thing to do.''

''I kind of surprised them with it,'' he told the Peninsula Daily News.

On hand were 80 people who were planning this summer's Tribal Journey, in which people from coastal tribes will travel by canoe from parts of Canada and Washington to a gathering in Port Angeles.

Fourteen men lifted the canoe from the truck and brought it into the center's gym, where they circled the basketball court, then set the craft down on tumbling mats at midcourt.

There it was blessed by elder Johnson Charles, the Lower Elwha Klallam's spiritual adviser. Singers from several tribes took turns chanting songs of celebration and thanks. When they finished, the whole group joined in the ''Journey Song.''

''This is a vessel that takes us to different places,'' said Ray Fryberg, a Tulalip tribes member, ''different places in the land, different places in our lives.''

''How many people can the canoe hold?'' asked Michael Evans, skipper of the Snohomish tribe's canoe, the Blue Heron. ''An infinite number, but only four or five at a time. So fill it full of people again and again. Fill it full of young people.''

Woodside, who said he has built kayaks and canoes since 1970, said he spent 50 hours making the craft. His day job is with the Navy submarine base in Bangor, Kitsap County.

''It's much lighter'' than a canoe carved from a western red cedar trunk, he said.

Woodside said he'd been dismayed by Port Angeles leaders' criticism of the Lower Elwha, blaming them for a state decision to halt construction on a graving yard where Hood Canal Bridge replacement pontoons and anchors were to be built. The state halted work in December after human remains and artifacts were found at the site, where a 1,700-year-old tribal village once stood.

''There's been some really ugly stuff around here,'' he said, frowning. ''It's really surprised me.''

Tribal members gave him a 16-inch hand-carved canoe and an artist's drawing. He seemed a bit embarrassed by the length of the ceremony.

''If we'd had 50 more tribes here, we'd be here a lot longer,'' Frances Charles, Lower Elwha tribal chairwoman, told him. ''These songs are their traditions — traditions they uphold so they endure.''

Coastal tribes recognize a gift ''by song or beads or crafts or money for what has been provided ... it can be an array of different appreciations,'' Charles told The Associated Press on Monday. ''It's in the old traditions of gift exchanges; it's something that we teach our youth today.''

Four hours after his arrival, Woodside departed as an honored friend.

''You're going to be in our hearts for the rest of your life and our lives,'' Charles told him, ''for what you have done here today.''

She said the canoe will be used for training young people.

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