13 February 2007

Canoe Conundrum

On Sunday, I drove out to Veneta to go to a canoe steaming ceremony. It was a dugout canoe that my uncle had been building for the Kalapuya tribe, and it turns out that in order for the boat to bow out into the right shape, it needs to be exposed to very hot water for several hours. This is done by filling the hull of the boat with water and periodically adding rocks that have been heated in a fire. It's a very tense time, since there's always a chance that the canoe will not expand correctly or, even worse, split, so needless to say the ceremonies surrounding it have traditionally been very important. The affair this weekend was much more toned-down, but it was still really interesting. I had a great time, but I'll admit I always feel a bit voyeuristic at such things. After all, my family history consists of white, white, and more white, and it's no secret that those of Northern European descent have had, at best, a rocky history with the Indians. Don't get me wrong, I have great - and genuine - respect for the Kalapuya and for pretty much all the tribes along the Northwest Coast, both because of their boat-oriented society (seriously, I have great admiration for any seafaring people, from Northwestern Indians to the Vikings to - I'll admit it - imperial Britain) and because their art, culture, and language are the foundation upon which modern Northwestern culture is built (I'm perfectly willing to support this claim of mine, just not now, since this post is long enough already). I've been to a smattering of ceremonies and events like this canoe steaming and for the first summer out of college I practically lived on the Makah reservation, and I've never once sensed any resentment or any objection to my being there. In fact, I've experienced exactly the opposite. Still, I can never shake the thought that maybe I shouldn't be so welcome. After all, just imagine how my Swedish forebears would have reacted if a group of Kalapuya had started showing up at their church services not because they shared the parishioners' faith but because (for some strange reason) they found Lutheran pageantry interesting. I'd like to be able to tie this all up with a nice, clear concluding statement, but frankly I can't. As a matter of fact, I've wound up with far more questions about the relationship between white Americans and Indians than I began with. I suppose you could argue that provoking thought is the highest goal of any human endeavor, so by that measure, this may be my first meaningful post ever! Hooray!


Barbara said...

No pictures? ....and was the ceremony successful? Any splits?

Sarda Sahney said...

Sounds like a really intersting event, good writeup!