The Blue Heron glided gracefully over the Columbia River. With the swift ‘whooshing’ of our paddles, Chief Mike honored us with a song to keep us in sync. Arriving a few yards from the Tall Ship known as The Hawaiian Chieftain, we raised our paddles and waited for Chief Ray aboard the Sea Eel to assess the intentions of the foreign visitors. “We are here in peace and bring you goods!” shouted the captain. Concluding that all was well and good relations were in order, Chief Ray commanded our crew to paddle towards the ship.
History was being reborn.
The annual Tall Ship Trade reenacts the trading that occurred between the Europeans and Chinook Nation back in the 1700’s-early 1800’s. On the shores of Port Ilwaco and just north of Cape Disappointment, these trades dominated by the Chinook nation, were well in practice decades before the arrival of Lewis and Clark. Today, replicas of The Hawaiian Chieftain and The Lady Washington sail the Pacific coastline all the way from California to Washington conducting public tours and educational programs for area school children.
After tying our canoes alongside the ship, Chief Ray and Chief Mike boarded The Hawaiian Chieftain and began negotiations. As we sat in our canoes, Chief Ray invited some of the ship’s crew to sit with us in “good faith”– an initial action assuring safe and peaceful negotiations.
I couldn’t help imagining what it would’ve been like back in the day. Strangers sitting next to each other, sizing each other up, unable to speak each others language, and floating for hours on end. It’s my understanding that Chinook Jargon was the language most commonly used throughout these trades. This jargon consisted of 80% old Chinook, 10% French, and 10% English. Obviously we were able to speak to one another in 100% English, but since this was a re-enactment, it was rather comical seeing each other’s initial reaction as if we were truly living in the 18th century!
Accompanied by my friend Barbie-Danielle, we decided to bring food and clothing as trading items. Between the two of us, we offered oranges, honey, tea, chocolate, and a wool cap. The ship’s captain invited us on board and greeted us warmly as crew members brought out items from below deck. Hand-made jewelry, knives, wine, and abalone shells, were just some of the trade offerings.
Barbie negotiated a rope mallet and I offered the captain my orange wool cap, since earlier he’d given up his hat to one of our crew members. As Barbie and I completed our transactions, Chief Mike and Chief Ray stood behind us puffing smokes. Returning to our canoes we admired the craftsmanship of our gifts and shared them with the rest of our crew. After two hours of floating on the Columbia River, the trading ended and we were ready to return home.
The sun was shining over the trees and an eagle soared above the waters. With the swift ‘whooshing’ of our paddles, Chief Mike honored us with a song to keep us in sync.
By this point, my arms were sore and I was cold and wet, but the rush of adrenaline and my renewed sense of spirit kept me moving with the crew. Once we docked, we loaded the canoes on a trailer and boarded The Hawaiian Chieftain to partake of a family meal and ship cleansing. Chief Ray shared with me that cleansing rituals were often requested by captains and crews to rid the ships of negative spirits and bless the voyage home. On deck was a bundle of cedar leaves and as everyone stood in silence, a Chinook tribal member lifted his voice in song asking the Creator to bless the cleansing and journey of the captain and crew.
The sound of the voice and drum swelled into the air and echoed throughout the dock as we grabbed a cedar branch and began cleansing the ship. With the crisp cedar aroma lingering in the air, Chief Mike honored us with a final song once dedicated to his mother on her final journey. A final prayer lifted to the Heavens.
In the cool breeze with the sun shining over the trees and an eagle soaring over the waters, I felt my mother’s presence.