By the time the paddlers arrived at Shipyard Cove May 23, the morning rain had ceased and the sun glittered on the water.
“We know you are here in a good way, we welcome you,” Freddy Lane told the canoe full of Hawaiian paddles that approached shore. They raised their paddles as Lane spoke, waiting for permission to come ashore. This group of paddlers had traveled the longest and were part of the Hawaiian Outrigger Voyaging Canoe Society, of Maui Hawaii. HOVCS is a non-profit with the mission “to promote sustainability, environmental health and respect for Mother Earth and humankind through the preservation, education and perpetuation of the Hawaiian culture through protocol, voyaging and the way of life on the canoe,” according to the website. The vision is “to create, perpetuate, educate and inspire a sustainable lifestyle rooted in Hawaiian cultural values.”
The group pf HOVCS members that participated in the Gathering of Eagles included several youths; Marlee Whyte; Natale Young; James Doubleday and Ozzi Reyes. HOVCS Executive Director, Anela Gutierez helped supervise the trip and was the one who instigated their participation, according to the students.
“We hope in the future we can bring more young people with us,” Gutierez said.
When asked what they had learned, Whyte noted that while the tribal nations may have an array of canoe styles, and praise their ancestors differently and have their own cultures, the beliefs, ceremonies, respect for their elders and respect for the land are all similar.
Three more canoes paddled in, two black and one white with a long octopus painted along its side, and two asked permission to come ashore, while the third, led by Stiliguamish tribal member Raymon Rome asked permission to set their course back to Lopez, so the group may attend another important meeting.
“Thank you for answering our call in a good way,” Lane said, after joking that they may not leave. “Our ancestors have been with you, in a good way, guiding you.”
Raymond Hillaire spoke welcomed the trio of canoes, starting off by acknowledging the loss of his grandfather, former Lummi Cultural Director James “Smitty” Hillaire.
“This was one of the last things he worked on,’ Raymond said. “He played a huge role, giving us the foundation that was taken away from us in colonization.”
Stephanie Buffum-Fields told the Journal that it was James who had approached her while she was Executive Director of Friends of the San Juans about working together on the Canoe Journey.
This year the event was titled “The Gathering of Eagles,” and began May 22, launching from Anacortes. The paddler spent the evening on Lopez and paddled to San Juan May 23. On May 25 they made their way to Orcas, and on May 27 they journeyed to the Lummi Nation for the beginning of Honoring Day. Three days of events were scheduled before its conclusion on May 30.
Raymond told the paddlers his grandfather is proud of each and every one of them for taking part.
“All he wanted was for the children to know where they came from and to have that identity,” he said.