LANGLEY, Wash — Mike Evans stood on the shore of Puget Sound Thursday welcoming the return of Native people to the south end of Whidbey Island, where the Snohomish people lived for thousands of years.
"There are many Snohomish members still living on the island, but nobody knows who they are and they're not well identified," said Evans.
Evans is the chairman of the Snohomish Tribe of Indians, which was pushed off of its land hundreds of years ago, leaving its people in search of their true identity.
Now, Evans is out to find it.
"This culture was alive and is alive," he said. "It's not completely dead, although it's been dormant for a while. It needs to be woke up."
Evans is part of a canoe trip through Puget Sound aimed at reawakening the Snohomish people.
Nearly 20 years ago he and his father carved the Blue Heron canoe being used on the journey.
It represents the identity of the Snohomish people.
"It's reconnecting with the ancient pathways, reconnecting with the language, a connection with the culture," says Evans.
One of the stops on the trip took place Thursday at the Whidbey Island city of Langley, which is having its own reckoning with its past.
The city recently removed two imitation totem poles that were carved by white men and had no relation to the Snohomish or any other Native culture.
Mayor Scott Chaplin said his city is working to repair the damage caused by centuries of racism.
"We want Langley to be a community that is for everyone, all cultures, all ethnic groups, all nationalities, but especially the First People and the descendants of the First People."
Among those waiting to greet the paddlers were Becky and Robyn Porter, Snohomish sisters working to revive their culture.
"I've been waiting for this moment my whole life," said Becky. "It's so powerful."
"We want people to know, we're not trying to take anything from anybody," added Robyn. "We're just trying to get people to understand that we're still here."
The trip continues for two more weeks, touching the San Juan Islands and ending at the Lummi reservation in Whatcom County.
As they continue their journey toward identity, recognition and respect, Evans vows to bring their culture home.
"We haven't disappeared," he says. "The natives are still here."