Song on the Water
Song On The Water
format: documentary, trailer
People like Al Charles Jr.
(pictured above) helped not only preserve Coast Salish culture but provide for its economic future. At the young age of 18, Al, along with his community at Lower Elwha carved the Elwha Klallam’s first giant cedar canoe in many years, and set out on a 1200 mile paddle to Bella Bella, British Columbia and back.
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 Salish Indians of the Pacific North 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 a vision of a positive future for Coast Salish youth.
Coleen Boyd, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Ball State University
In the 1960s, Washington State forbade Native Americans from hunting in their traditional fishing areas. Known as the Fish Wars, state police had harassed and sometimes physically beaten tribal fishermen. In 1976, the federal government 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.
Once passed down throughout generations, Salish identity, language and traditions were in danger of disappearing. The tribes were in dire need of some kind of action to prevent losing their cultures.
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 nations of the Pacific Northwest Coast.
In advance of rebuilding of tribal longhouses, and the sharing of traditional songs, elders envisioned and prayed for the return of culture and prosperity back into coast Salish life.
Soon after, tribal peoples once again began teaching traditional culture, language, and arts 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.
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.
Tribal Journey to Tulalip
The time had arrived and it would be important to celebrate and memorialize the moment.
Numerous Coast Salish and other tribal Nations braved the often treacherous open waters, in enormous carved dugout canoes. Arriving from the far tip of Vancouver Island to the Olympic Peninsula, a gathering of Nations congregated at lower Elwha to continue the traditions–”pulling” together as peoples to Tulalip.
A long and arduous journey, pullers must overcome strong currents, large waves, challenging 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 spiritual completion, a link between the past, present and future.
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.