A few minutes after 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, four canoes swung around the hulking hull of the Veendam and came into view of Marine Park, passing the boat ramp before circling wide to their left.
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The boats lined up parallel to one another, pointing at the dock and waiting for David Katzeek - a Thunderbird from Klukwan - to welcome the paddlers ashore.
"This is the way it used to be a long time ago, before a large party took place," Katzeek said.
The party - Celebration 2006 - has started.
Roughly 300 people lined the railings of Marine Park and Merchants Wharf for the Coming Ashore Ceremony, a canoe welcoming gala for the Sealaska Heritage Institute's biennial Alaska Native gathering and a nod to ancient tradition.
"When there was a traditional gathering for our people, the host would greet the vessels that were coming in, the canoes that were out in the bay," Katzeek said. "We respect each other's lands so much that the people would not just come ashore without being welcomed ashore. And so they would ask, 'Where is this vessel from? Where is this boat from?'"
Four 13-person fiberglass canoes - the blue Sealaska boat, the white SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium craft and two red-and-white Goldbelt vessels - participated in Wednesday's ceremony.
The volunteer paddlers left Sandy Beach in Douglas just after 6 p.m., and covered three-quarters of a mile across Gastineau Channel in about 28 minutes.
This was the second Celebration with a Coming Ashore Ceremony. The first was in 2004.
"We wanted to get back to the more traditional aspect of things," said Doug Chilton, canoe race organizer and leader of the One People team. "It was just a huge success that they definitely didn't want to miss out this time."
In 2004, clan elders traveled across the channel in the canoes. Due to the limited space in the boats, organizers tried to keep a balance between representatives of the Raven and Eagle clans.
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