Connecting through Canoes and Story

Ivan Pankararú and Leandro Pataxó representing the Pankararú and Pataxó indigenous peoples of Brazil traveled to the Pacific Northwest to join with the Puyallup on this year’s annual Tribal Canoe Journey. The two traveled to this corner of the globe in order to seek knowledge, build relationships and connect with the theme of this year’s journey:  “Loving, Caring, and Sharing Together.” They started their canoe journey at Owen Beach and carried on through Alki Beach, Suquamish, and Tulalip with the final landing ceremony at the host site in Swinomish.

This past summer I got to do some deep hanging out with folks from Brazil and the Puyallup Tribe as we canoed up the Puget Sound. The encounter grew out of a of conversation that occurred nearly one year ago at the home of Geralda Soares in Araçuaí, Brazil. I was to there to help with the FLIP Brazil: Documentary Filmmaking, Human Rights and Global Activism program. Led by Professors Angelica Macklin, Margaret Griesse and Jonathan Warren the program is jointly sponsored by the University of Washington’s Comparative History of Ideas Program, The Latin American Studies Program in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies and the Master of Communication in Digital Media (MDCM) program.  The FLIP Brazil program is grounded in the work that Jonathan Warren has been doing for over 20 years and is chronicled in his book, “Racial Revolutions: Antiracism and Indian Resurgence in Brazil.”

I sat around the table with Ivan, Geralda, Jonathan, Angelica, Margaret, Matthew Franco, and Jaquelina Pinheiro Neiva.  Ivan (Chief of the Pankararú indigenous people of Brazil) was telling the tale of how his people have worked to reclaim their land and are now in the process of re-awakening their canoe traditions.

They live near the nexus of two rivers and were known as canoe people until they were driven from their land around 1850. Upon hearing this story and because I had my laptop ready at hand, I pulled up the movie that I had made with the Hoh River Nation documenting the 2002 canoe paddle to Quinault : “Tribal Journey: Celebrating our Ancestors.”  These tribal journeys are part of a series of inter-tribal cultural exchanges reaffirming and re-awakening the canoe cultures of the Northwest coast. The film portrays the celebration of ancestors through the journey of the canoes; along with the art, dance and songs of the participating tribes; through the preparation and sharing of meals and through the celebration of the potlatch (gift giving ceremony).

After watching the film, the conversation turned when I said, “hey, you should come up to the Northwest and do some deep hanging out through participation in an upcoming paddle.” Ivan then said, “OK, make it happen.” We all looked at each other and said “let’s do it. So with a little help from our friends, we did. Jonathan Warren adds:

“The impetus for the trip had several origins. First, I have always believed that the best way to advance indigenous movements in the Americas is to forge intertribal linkages within and across national boundaries. So for some years I had been hoping to at last link those communities that I have partnered with in Brazil with those in the Puget Sound. Secondly, the Indians in Brazil have always been very anxious to make connections with indigenous communities in the US – I believe for many of the same reasons that I have had, including the belief that such connections will further the indigenous movement in Brazil and elsewhere. So we’ve been searching for ways to make these connections – something that is more difficult than what you might imagine. Thanks to your previous experiences with the NW canoe journey, that sparked the idea of making the connection through that annual ceremony.”

Along with the folks sitting around the table we’d like to thank Suzanne Martin, Carla Simone Barbosa de Brito, Connie McCloud and several members of the Puyallup, Pankararú and Pataxó  communities.  Thanks also go to University of Washington’s Diversity Research Institute, Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity, School of Social Work, Clowes Center, Center for Northwest Studies, and the Master of Communication in Digital Media program for helping to support this encounter.

We also wish to express our deep gratitude for the care that the Puyallup canoe family took in hosting our friends from Brazil.

May the sound of your drums continue to touch the sound-boxes of our souls as the rhythms and ripples of your canoes chart a better humanity for us all.

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