A new vessel connects tribe to the past

May 4, 2010

By Christopher Huber

Master carver John Mullen, of Beaver Lake, got choked up as he tried to express his gratitude to those who crafted the Snoqualmie Tribe’s newest canoe.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” he said as he and about 20 others stood in a circle on the beach at Lake Sammamish State Park. He said he was proud of the younger carvers, Jacob Mullen and Wayne Graika, who did the brunt of the work. “The spirit was with them.”

John and Jacob Mullen, Graika and other members of the Snoqualmie Tribe celebrated the culmination of six months of meticulous handiwork April 21, when they dedicated their first ocean-going canoe on Lake Sammamish. The tribe will gift the canoe to a family — who’ll be the caretakers — on Memorial Day weekend, John Mullen said.

The vessel, named Northern Dipper, like the bird, is a strip canoe, which is different than the tribe’s traditional dugout river and lake canoes. It measures 34 feet long and five feet at its widest point, John Mullen said.

“This is the biggest one we’ve done,” he said. “We couldn’t find a log big enough to do (carve) this one.”

It will enable more tribe members to participate in the annual canoe journey, which involves about 100 native groups from around the Pacific Northwest, he said. During the more than two-week journey, the groups navigate the Puget Sound and surrounding waterways en-route to a specified location.

This year, the Snoqualmie Tribe will have a more stable canoe for when they hit the open ocean near the end of the journey, Neah Bay.

“I know what it took. I know it was a long wait,” said Matt Baerwalde, the tribe’s water quality manager. “It’s a really good thing.”

After the group gathered in a circle and held hands, Ray Mullen, John’s brother, prayed over the canoe and for those involved in crafting it. He began the blessing ceremony with what he called a mountain song about bringing two cultures together. He then walked around the canoe as it lay on the lakeshore, running a duck feather along the vessel’s edges.

The ceremony ended and anyone interested in pulling — paddling — hopped in to test the canoe. It fits approximately 12 pullers, plus a skipper and one relief puller. John Mullen and crew had taken Northern Dipper out earlier in the week for a test run. He said he was excited about the potential for the brand new canoe.

“We didn’t even want to come back,” he said.

For the Mullens and those closest to the project, the completion of the Northern Dipper is more than another finished project. It’s another step toward rebuilding the tribe’s culture.

“This is very significant,” Ray Mullen said. “This has to do with the (tribe’s) spiritual awakening.”

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