Bainbridge Island Rowing athletes have rowed in Eagle Harbor for almost twenty years. But starting long before BIR’s beginnings in 2001, the Suquamish history includes thousands of years of rowing in Puget Sound.
Clear Salt Water
Rowing was the primary means of transportation for the Suquamish. Because the heavily forested region was difficult to navigate on foot, the Suquamish spent much of their time in canoes on the water, whether for fishing, for food gathering, for visiting other villages, or for relocating seasonally to different encampments. In fact, their history is so connected to the water that their name reflects it: Suquamish is a Lushootseed phrase meaning “people of the clear salt water.”
BIR rowers today use rowing shells, but the Suquamish relied on dugout canoes. The Suquamish Tribe website explains the process of building a dugout canoe, which could take a year from start to finish. A master canoe maker, who was likely trained in the craft from childhood, would look for the ideal tree, which “had to be straight and tall, have few branches, be near the water, free of rot and have a soft place to fall.” Western Red Cedar and Yellow cedar were often good choices because they weigh less than other trees, are hard, and are oily, which contributes to their longevity in the water.
After felling the tree, the craftsman would fashion the hull from the trunk by using hand mauls to strike chisels and wedges. Once that was done, the tree was turned over so the builder could carve out the inside. The builder spread the sides of the canoe with steam by filling it partway with water and hot stones and then wedging cross sticks into the opening.
The Suquamish spent winters in permanent villages at what we know now as Suquamish, Point Bolin, Poulsbo, Silverdale, Chico, Colby, and Olalla, and on Bainbridge Island in the areas of Point White, Lynwood Center, Eagle Harbor, Port Madison, and Battle Point. Old Man House in Suquamish was the winter residence of Chief Seattle and Chief Kitsap. The winter homes consisted of cedar plank and log longhouses. In the spring and throughout the summer and fall people would travel by canoe to temporary camps for fishing, hunting, and gathering. At these seasonal camps they lived in shelters made of tree saplings and woven cattail mats.
Today’s Eagle Harbor rowers follow some of the same “clear salt water” routes taken by the Suquamish so long ago, and they never tire of learning about the rich history of Northwest rowing.
Information on history of Suquamish rowing from Suquamish Tribe website.
Featured image from page 28 of “Souvenir of Chief Seattle and Princess Angeline, gleaned from Indian traditions and historic records of Puget Sound” (1909). Chief Seattle photo by Brian Glanz.