Song on the Water
Song On The Water
format: documentary, trailer
Filmmaker Robert Lundahl’s award-winning 60-minute documentary, Song On The Water, takes viewers along a modern-day voyage with 50 tribal canoes and their crews, to a traditional potlatch—a ceremony among Indian communities of the Pacific Northwest Coast
Filled with scenes of Coast Salish and Nuu Chah Nulth songs, glowing faces, inspiring stories, and incredibly beautiful cinematography—the one-hour film reveals the profound spirit the voyage instills for pullers, ground crews, and elders. Together they share the waves, traditions, and vision of Coast Salish youth with radiant futures firmly rooted in a strong cultural identity.
In the 1960s, Washington State forbade Native Americans from fishing in their traditional areas. Known as the Fish Wars, state police had harassed and sometimes physically beaten tribal fishermen. In 1976, a federal judge guaranteed the rights to fish in usual and accustomed grounds.
Despite the ruling, state officials regularly denied access. Later in a compromise, the state agreed to allow tribes access to traditional fishing grounds, but only by traditional means—hand-carved ocean-going canoes.
Over several generations, tribes began dis-integrating due to mistreatment by non-natives, loss of sacred and traditional lands, isolation—all of which led to poverty, drug addiction, alcoholism, and other symptomatic social consequences.
Once passed down throughout generations, Coast Salish identity, language and traditions were in danger of disappearing. The tribes were in dire need of some kind of action.
The Long House Association is a Native American non-profit with a mission to educate, communicate and elevate Native culture. The Native American Longhouse Association invited filmmaker Robert Lundahl to participate as Executive Director.
The Return of the Great Canoes
In advance of rebuilding tribal longhouses, openly teaching disallowed cultural practices again, elders envisioned and prayed for the return of their culture traditions and the bringing of prosperity back into Coast Salish life.
As the oppressive conditions of the past began to yield to a new renaissance, as Indian youth secured better access to education, graduating with advanced degrees and returning home, communities once again began teaching traditional culture, language, skills and crafts to the younger generations. How to carve and fashion seaworthy dugout canoes from solid cedar. How to participate and thrive in harmony with the environment. To be strong again. To be proud again. To sing and dance again.
Tribal Journey to Tulalip
The day had arrived and it would be important to celebrate and memorialize the moment.
Numerous Coast Salish and other tribal Nations had braved the wild and often treacherous open waters, rivers, and channels in enormous carved dugout canoes for this ancient maritime journey. Coming from the far tip of Vancouver Island to the Olympic Peninsula, a great Salish Nation congregated at Elwha to continue the traditions—”pulling” together as peoples to Tulalip.
A long and arduous trek, pullers must overcome strong currents, large waves, and challenge their own physical and mental limits. Learning on their journey together, to read the waves, and listen to the elements. To become better pullers and navigators. To reach their destination, and together find a spiritual completion, a link between the past, present and future. To bring people closer together, and bring tribes closer together. Learning to be stronger peoples of the Earth together.
A Story Spreads Like Wildfire
So moving was this picture, that three months following release, the film had already aired on over 240 PBS affiliate stations, coast to coast. View the full-length PBS documentary here on YouTube.