Raising Our Canoe



Raising Our Canoe

for my grandpa, dad, and brother


Dear Dad:

I wish you could’ve been here as the waves swept across the shore

and the sound of warriors singing was louder than before,

and the ocean was our blanket and heaven was our roof,

when the waters were our mother, and our father was the moon,

and the sun rose in the sky like a bright and orange globe,

and the water against paddles was a sweetly lapping strobe.

Here the dolphins still are swimming as they sing the ocean’s song,

we go back to the beginning, on the water we belong.

Dear Dad. If you could’ve been here then you would have seen your boy,

the twinkle in your eyes, your laughing pride and joy,

the dream was in your heart when you weren’t yet his age,

now he rides upon the waters, and paddles o’er the waves.


Grandfather, remember the years that you were broken down and beaten?

Grandfather, all those years the locust has eaten?

And the colonizer came to steal your land and break your spirit-

but now listen to the song across the water - can you hear it?

Father, Grandfather, see them riding toward the shore

as your heart pounds in your chest more than it ever has before.

For this victory, we’ve been waiting, for this dream to be released,

and now warriors, they are coming, they are coming to the beach.

Hear the skipper, Tony Johnson, announce each tribe and people,

ask permission, with great honor, to ascend the holy steeple.

And Quinault’s representatives answer with dignity and grace,

as they bid our people welcome, welcome, welcome to this place.

Thank you, they commend us, you responded to the call.

Now come and rest your bones, eat, sleep, and be refreshed all.

Grandfather, now I feel you as my brother swings his feet

and they land with a great splash upon the waters of this beach.

You invigorate his step and you animate his lungs.

Oh my father and grandfather, your spirits bid him come.

And he feels your strength inside him and this is your greatest gift,

for there is more to this journey - the canoe they must now lift.


Dear Dad. The sound of children crying has echoed loudly in my ears,

as the rolling centuries are filled with strife and filled with tears.

Now the blankets, they do smother, and the old ones gasp and wheeze,

and the youth, ripped from his mother, and it gets so hard to breathe.

Grandfather. Did they make you cut your hair?

Did they say your language was evil? Did they sit you in a chair?

Did they indoctrinate your soul, did they colonize your heart?

Now the rolling tides and centuries, like the Red Sea, shall part.

Because five hundred years of genocide and death,

of reservations and agony and catching your breath

 as you marched that death march ever closer to your grave

cannot stand before these warriors who ride across the waves.

Oh, they tried to break our ancestors, crush them, and make them fall,

but their generations prospered after them, and on these shores, stand tall.

Father, Grandfather, the journey’s just begun.

We know that you are with us: now, behold, your son.

For the warriors now are rising and their eyes are strong as boulders

as with a heavy heave and ho they lift the canoe to their shoulders.

And it’s like twenty-eight million are lifting with them, too,

as ankle deep in water, they carry our canoe. 


by Misty Ellingburg