10 Canoe Rules

Keep going! Even against the most relentless wind or retrograde tide, somehow a canoe moves forward. This mystery can only be explained by the fact that each pull forward is a real movement and not a delusion.

Respect and trust cannot exist in anger. It has to be thrown overboard, so the sea can cleanse it. It has to be washed off the hands and cast into the air, so the stars can take care of it. We always look back at the shallows we pulled through, amazed at how powerful we thought those dangers were.

The adaptable animal survives. If you get tired, ship your paddle and rest. If you get hungry, put in on the beach and eat a few oysters. If you can’t figure one way to make it, do something new. When the wind confronts you, sometimes you’re supposed to go the other way.

Every story is important. The bow, the stern, the skipper, the power puller in the middle – everyone is part of the movement. The elder sits in her cedar at the front, singing her paddle song, praying for us all. The weary paddler resting is still ballast. And there is always that time when the crew needs some joke, some remark, some silence to keep going, and the least likely person provides.

Nothing occurs in isolation. When we aren’t in the family of a canoe, we are not ready for whatever comes. The family can argue, mock, ignore each other at its worst, but that family will never let itself sink. A canoe that lets itself sink is certainly wiser never to leave the beach. When we know that we are not alone in our actions, we also know we are lifted up by everyone else.

Always nourish yourself. The bitter person, thinking that sacrifice means self-destruction, shares mostly anger. A paddler who doesn’t eat at the feasts doesn’t have enough strength to paddle in the morning. Take that sandwich they throw at you at 2.00 A.M.! The gift of who you are only enters the world when you are strong enough to own it.

Who we are, how we are, what we do, why we continue, flourish with tolerance. The canoe fellows who are grim go one way. The men and women who find the lightest flow may sometimes go slow, but when they arrive they can still sing. And they have gone all over the sea, into the air with the seagulls, under the curve of the wave with the dolphin and down to the whispering shells, under the continental shelf. Withdrawing the blame acknowledges how wonderful a part if it all every one of us really is.

Although the start is exciting and the conclusion gratefully achieved, it is the long, steady process we remember. Being part of the journey requires great preparation; being done with a journey requires great awareness; being on the journey, we are much more than ourselves. We are part of the movement of life. We have a destination, and for once our will is pure, our goal is to go on.

We can berate each other, try to force each other to understand, or we can allow each paddler to gain awareness through the ongoing journey. Nothing sustains us like that sense of potential that we can deal with things. Each paddler learns to deal with the person in front, the person behind, the water, the air, the energy; the blessing of the eagle.


The Ten Rules of the Canoe were developed by the Quileute Canoe contingent for a Northwest Experimental Education Conference in 1990. 

P.S. Never, NEVER call CANOE a “boat”. Them’s splashin’ in words, friend. / You might get thrown in the water, or get to dance, to clear the score. 🙂 

38 Responses

  1. […] Native Americans who participate in the annual Canoe Journey. According to the Chinook Nation website Emmett Oliver, descendant of the Chinook Tribe, was one of the men who conceived the idea of […]

  2. […] prepare for tribal canoe journey, let’s get familiar with the Ten Rules of the Canoe(developed by the Quileute Canoe contingent for a Northwest Experimental Education Conference in […]

  3. I love all your comments. I’m part of the Ferndale community and wish more residents could get past their bigotry to appreciate their Lummi neighbors and what this tradition (so vital to their heritage) means to the young (and young at heart) members of the tribe. A chance for they’re ancient traditions to start sustaining them in the time of great need to overcome the abuses of their community as well as all the abuses going on in every city of our nation. Pride, Love and Laughter shine thru on their journeys. Well done

  4. my name is Celia im from Penticton, BC and im a canoe puller i train all year round and im also a boxer, im looking for a canoe family to pull with this tribals, ive attended other canoe journeys such as pulling together on the westcoast and ive even pulled in Orkney, Scotland.
    if you need more information.
    or if your intrested in having me join your canoe family! email me at.


    thank you!

    ” the water is bringing our people together ! ‘

  5. Apparently, even if you do not call a canoe a Boat, and you simply say the word Boat while in a Canoe, the results are the same (!?!).

  6. […] as James points out are called The Ten Rules of the Canoe and are as follows (from the site https://tribaljourneys.wordpress.com/10-canoe-rules/):   10 Canoe […]

  7. you forgot another rule!


  8. Hi My name is Brandon Gabriel, I am 31 years old, from the Kwantlen First Nation in Fort Langley BC and I am looking for a canoe family to paddle with. I have paddled on 7 Pulling Together journeys, and one Tribal Journey to Lummi in ’07. I am strong, I can’t sing I can’t dance, but like to laugh- maybe you can watch me sing and dance!!!! If you need a guy like me on your crew- email me at brandongabriel_@hotmail.com

    I am also a professional artist with a BFA, who teaches at a local university in the Greater Vancouver area, and I love to paddle!!!!!

  9. Wooooot, 2010 journeys, come already.

  10. the canoe journeys is the best part of my year,I paddle with the cowlitz tribe i have made the best friends intertribal connections makah is going to rock can’t wait for a new bead on my ring my hands go up to frank nelson the olivers and all the first ones to make my dreams come true cuz journey is what i live for no drugs or alcohol and the new friends to meet and the ones i know from all other tribes its a way of life that i love

  11. OmiiGod! 2009 canoe journey was so fun.
    i cant wait tell 2010s canoe journey.

  12. OmiiGod! i cant wait tell 2010 canoe journey. i cant wait to meet new people again :O

  13. I can see some of you will never “get it” . . I can buy all the “safety” reasons like Wendy said but when I see ground crews that rival Hydro Plane pitstops thats going above n beyond safe. How long till someone just slaps an outboard motor on the back of a canoe?

    I see so much stuff thats “made up” and past off as traditional or sacred blah blah blah . . greeting card material I say.

    I’ve been to Potlatch’s n Smokehouses before Journey 1989 and \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\

    • AGAIN… It is too obvious that you (Ravenhawk) have never participated – as a puller, or any other volunteer in the process – on an entire one of our annual Native Canoe Journeys of the Pacific Northwest (also called Tribal Journeys). If you had, you would not continue to show complete ignorance of what goes on, and why.

      You said the “ground crews rival Hydro Plane pit stops”. You must suffer from delusions, or you are thinking of someplace else in the world. We don’t have, or want such sophistication. At each stop for the night, we only try to provide food, rest, and a way to take care of bathroom and shower needs of people. How can you fault the provision of these basic needs for pullers on the canoes who have paddled for 12 or more hours a day, out in the elements.

      I think I can safely say that, people who HAVE participated fully in these canoe journeys would respectfully invite you to “Put up or Clam up”. (Either come and participate, cooperate, and paddle an entire Native Canoe Journey for several weeks time, every day on the canoe, keeping critical slams to yourself, so you will experience first hand what these canoe journeys really are… or Clam Up.)

      No one forced you to come to this page and endure the joy that others clearly experience from the canoe journeys.

      Constant, unfounded criticism has no place on the canoe, in canoe events, or on this page. Thank you.

      Paddles Up, Everybody!

  14. This article is in reality the greatest on this valuable topic. I absolutely feel the same way with your points of view and will eagerly look forward to your approaching updates. Saying thanks will not just be sufficient, for the phenomenal clarity in your writing. I will right away grab your rss feed to stay up to date of any updates. Great work and much success in your writing!

  15. In addition to the good words Wendy gave…
    The Ancestors, in their wisdom, used every resource and safety measure available to them at that time. They expect us to do the same.

    Many of us canoe journey regulars are wondering if Ravenhawk has ever been out on our canoes, on the Pacific Ocean, in the fog, in high winds. It seems pretty clear that they have NOT, or they would appreciate the wisdom of using every available resource and safety measure.

    PLUS… riding a bicycle (he referred to) is a world of difference from being on the water, in a canoe, several miles from shore. If a bicycle tips over… nobody is in danger of drowning.


  16. Tribal Journey is what you make it. The early morning paddles, taking a bath in the ocean, saying prayers are the times I felt closest to the Spirit.

    Tribal Journey is about personal healing, reconnecting with old friends, meeting new friends, and connecting with Mother Earth.

    Perhaps long ago our Ancestors did not need a road crew, support boat, or compass. For them is was a way of life. For us….we need to keep each other safe.

    Love and Respect.

  17. Who made up these “rules”? Too much modern philosophy’s injected into our Traditional ways . .

    Some Tribes have been doing Journeys long before the “First Canoe Journey 1989” get it right. Some Tribes weren’t even Ocean going people WTF

    Some of this sickens me to see/hear the constant preaching of sacred & humble all the time being related to canoes – most Coastals were very Warlike. This type of propaganda really irks me cause they’re flat out wrong.

    Too much like a Pow wow and not like a Traditional Potlatch/gathering.

    Even Whites doing the Tour De France go from start 2 finish not riding a motorcycle (support boats) or flat out take days off then get back on Canoe just to cross finish line.

    Theres so much of life jackets, GPS/compass, support boats, ground crew etc . . Ancestors must be looking down on us like kids on bicycle with training wheels . .

    • Tribal Journeys/Native Canoe Journeys is not trying to duplicate exactly every aspect of life a thousand years ago. Why would we do that??

      The ancient ones put to use every resource they had available at that time, and created new and innovative things all the time. Culture and tradition don’t stay frozen in time… they live, grow, adapt to life as needed. Otherwise, we would not still be around.

      Rules of the canoe.. Rule # 7 is a good one to keep in mind. It says: EXPERIENCES ARE NOT ENHANCED THROUGH CRITICISM.

      Have a lovely day.

  18. Greetings from Muckleshoot Indian Tribe ;]
    My namee is Anthony Boyd, Enrolled Lower Elwha Klallam, but reside in Muckleshoot. Paddle to Suquamish 2009 was my first journey! i loved it ;]

  19. Your awesome Jace….so true.

  20. they forgot a rule about being on a canoe. Never NEVER call a canoe the B word.
    thats the most important rule overall. the others are correct just had to say 😀

    CaNoE JourNey Rocks!

  21. hello there how is it going i been on tribal journey since 99 and i really enjoyed it so much with the journey there is always a challege with in our self or as a family but we prove to our selves we can walk through it and face it and deal with it and over come it and learn and grow and HEAL and take the PASt as learning Experience and hold on to our past in good way and look at it as well

  22. This was my second journey. I was so honored to paddle with the Cowichan – Charlie Canoe Family, and then with Cowichan Youth.

    This is truly a healing in all aspects. I will never forget protocol. Where can I find protocol?

  23. Thank you all for inviting us Hawaiians from Hawaii to be a part of the canoe journey. Thank you Bob Baker and the family and the Squamish nation. What a beautiful experience to have been a part of the journey. God bless all the different Indian nations who hosted us on every stop. It was one of the highlights of my life and i will treasure that moment for the rest of my life. Thank all of you again and may the Lord Jesus Christ bless you. Aloha nui loa.

  24. :L i am from the cowichan canoe family

  25. hello all 😉 this was my second journey , it was so awesome 🙂 and i can’t wait to go on the next one 🙂
    would like to get the e-mail of the hawiians 2 they maybe part of my family as well 🙂

  26. canoe journeys is going to be off the hook this year lol hahah well it better be i cant waite till it starts!!! o em gee!!! cant waite to see all my homies!!!!

  27. Canoe Journeys was the best

    I Really cant wait to go on for my second time
    its real awesome 🙂

  28. We are making those available this year. See Sue and Ben Charles / the Elwha Canoe Family.

  29. Has anyone printed up the 10 rules and made them available? I would like to get some to hand out to our San Juan County leadership class. We could make a donation in return.

  30. i went with the snoquami canoe family and i loved it im going on it again in 08

    and one more rule……..
    NEVER EVER Call A Canoe A Boat

  31. i love my canoe family:)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: