SEATTLE — The man who launched the first Native American Paddle to Seattle was 75 years old at the time.
That was in 1989. Today, at 100 years old, Emmett Oliver watched the 25th launching of the Duwamish canoes. Time has left him unable to paddle or even tell the stories he is famous for, but with the help of his daughter and the Aegis Living Center, he was able to watch ancestors of Seattle’s first people row past the Seattle skyline.
Oliver created the event during Seafair 1989 because he felt his tribe should not be left out of Seattle’s biggest maritime celebration. He also wanted the next generation to understand his tribe’s traditions and culture.
The paddlers show up every year and sing native songs while rowing the short distance to around Alki Point. They are met by more members who sing traditional greetings as the canoes come ashore.
Beachgoers crowd around to take pictures as the tribal members tote the colorful canoes onto the beach. Their chants and songs continue as they enjoy a meal.
Oliver watches it all from comfortable seat. He finally gets to rest after a quarter century of organizing one of Seafair’s most cultural events.