Members of the Samish Nation took a respite from their summer canoe journey to sing, share stories and offer a blessing of the ground at Camp Orkila.
Construction will begin in a few weeks on two 14-bunk cabins in the north end to accommodate the demand for more YMCA campers. The cluster of cabins in that area, which were built in the 1940s, all have tribal names. Orkila volunteers reached out to the Samish Nation for permission to continue that tradition.
“Tribal leaders met and responded that they would be thrilled to have us use their name because Orcas was the ancestral home of their people for countless generations,” said Doug Boyden, who is funding the work along with his wife Nancy and fellow Orcas Islander Cliff Forbes.
The buildings will be named Samish and Salish and were designed by architect David Kau. Construction is slated for completion by the fall. Orkila plans to build two more cabins in the south end next spring.
Camp supporters, staff members and volunteers gathered on June 28 to welcome Samish and Lummi tribal members to the grounds. This the second year that Orkila has been a host to those on the annual canoe journey when Coast Salish tribes travel by boat through the Salish Sea. Over the course of several weeks, they paddle by day and stop at host locations to camp out and share oral history.
Sam Barr, a canoe skipper with the Stillaguamish Tribe, said the journey is part of the Coast Salish tradition of “making friends with neighbors.” He explained the magic of crews paddling in the sea together, a phenomenon called xéchnginglh, which means “hearts and minds are one.”
Tribal members old and young told stories, sang traditional songs and danced on a stage near the beach. They said such ceremonies “lift our hearts” and are “not entertainment but a sharing of knowledge and history.”
“As tribal peoples, we are surviving peoples,” Barr said.
It was an emotional ceremony for many as two elders in attendance – including Rosie Cayou-James – had parents who were born on Orcas Island.
“No matter where we go, Orcas is always our home,” said Cayou-James, who is also the cultural outreach manager of the Samish Nation.
The group ended the evening by blessing the land where the cabins will be built.
“It was a wonderful cultural exchange of common values and respect for tradition, which is shared by all,” Boyden said. “It was also moving to see them push off the next morning, elders and teens, to continue their journey on their ancestral waters.”