Members of the Snohomish tribe raise cultural awareness with canoe trips

The Snohomish tribe return to their homeland by canoeing across Puget Sound. On Thursday they stopped at Langley on Whidbey Island.

LANGLEY, Wash – Mike Evans stood on the shore of Puget Sound Thursday and welcomed the return of Native people to the south end of Whidbey Island, where the Snohomish people lived for thousands of years.

“There are still a lot of Snohomish members living on the island, but nobody knows who they are and they’re not well identified,” Evans said.

Evans is the leader of the Snohomish tribe of Native Americans who were driven from their lands hundreds of years ago, leaving his people in search of their true identity.

Now Evans is looking for him.

“This culture was alive and well,” he said. “It’s not quite dead, although it’s been dormant for a while. It needs to be woken up.”

Evans takes part in a canoe tour of Puget Sound aimed at reviving the Snohomish.

Almost 20 years ago, he and his father carved the Blue Heron canoe used on the voyage.

It represents the identity of the Snohomish.

“It’s a reconnection with the old ways, a reconnection with the language, a reconnection with the culture,” says Evans.

One of the stops on the trip was Thursday in the town of Langley on Whidbey Island, which is coming to terms with its own past.

The city recently removed two imitation totem poles carved by white men with no relation to the Snohomish or any other Native American culture.

RELATED: Totem poles reveal cultural appropriation issue on Whidbey Island

Mayor Scott Chaplin said his city is working to repair the damage caused by centuries of racism.

“We want Langley to be a community for all, all cultures, all ethnic groups, all nationalities, but especially First People and First People’s descendants.”

Among those waiting to greet the paddlers were Becky and Robyn Porter, Snohomish sisters working to revitalize their culture.

“I’ve waited my whole life for this moment,” Becky said. “It’s so powerful.”

“We want people to know that we’re not trying to take anything away from anyone,” Robyn added. “We’re just trying to make people understand that we’re still here.”

The journey continues for two more weeks, touches on the San Juan Islands and ends at the Lummi Reservation in Whatcom County.

As they continue their journey to identity, recognition and respect, Evans vows to bring her culture home.

“We’re not gone,” he says. “The natives are still here.”