Canoe landing

The canoe landing at Paddle to Makah, Neah Bay.

The American Indian studies department has created a new study abroad program titled “Tribal Canoe Journey Field Study”, which will give students the opportunity to observe and participate in the annual canoe journeys undertaken by upwards of 6,000 various indigenous peoples of the Salish Sea (Puget Sound) and beyond each year. 

The canoe is a historically traditional primary mode of transportation for these tribes. Being such an important tool has made the canoe a cultural symbol and subsequently a conduit to access the layered culture of these tribes.

“The canoe tradition is significant,” said Charlotte Cote, associate professor of American Indian studies and co-director of the study abroad program. “[My students] are going to immerse themselves in that history, it’s going to come alive.”

The journey will begin on campus, where students will undertake a study of the peoples and nations whom they will visit, including the We Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum, Tse-shaht, and Tla-o-qui-aht. They will then proceed to follow voyagers as they move up through the San Juan Islands and into the Straits of Georgia in British Columbia for a five-day celebration on the shores of Discovery Passage.

Each stop along the way will provide students the opportunity to immerse themselves in these cultures through gift-giving, the sharing of food and hospitality, and the participation in traditional ceremony. 

The canoe tradition was revitalized for many reasons. It not only gives native people access to the traditional practices of their ancestors, but through the code that is associated with the practice, called the “10 Canoe Rules,” it ensures that participants maintain the health of themselves and of the land. 

“The main focus of the journeys have been health, wellness, and healing,” Cote said. “They are alcohol, drug, and tobacco free. Many people who are involved are working toward becoming healthy, or are healthy and looking to maintain that health and wellness in their lives. Not just physically, but mentally and also spiritually.”

Cynthia Updegrave, fellow co-director of the program and lecturer in the American Indian studies department, will use her experience as a botanist to teach about the relationship between the indigenous cultures and the specific marine environment of the Salish Sea. That relationship lends itself to environmental stewardship, something which both directors are hoping to impart on their students. 

“There is a lot to do with environmental knowledge,” Cote said. “Many of these people that go on these journeys are young, they want to connect to their culture in this very significant way. It is a way of understanding the changes that are happening to these marine spaces.”

Updegrave also stressed the inspirational quality of observing the resilience of these cultures as, historically, their way of life was deliberately discouraged by the U.S. government. Laws such as the Dawes Act facilitated the assimilation of Native Americans into mainstream American culture. 

The boarding school has become a symbol for the oppression of indigenous cultures. 

“Look at that,” Updegrave said, gesturing at a photo of a boarding school on Native American land. “It looks like a weapon of mass destruction.”

Updegrave cherishes many different aspects of these indigenous cultures. She hopes that her students will see the value of practices such as hospitality and gift-giving, which make such a study abroad program possible. She is of the mind that such practices run counter to certain western values, and being a party to relationships which unfold outside of the realm of commodity exchange is rewarding. 

“Much of this, for the students, is learning the power of the gift, or understanding the sacred guest-host relationship,” Updegrave said. “There will be many days where we do not use any money at all. Students will learn how to step outside of our economy.”

The journey will span roughly 300 miles in either direction, during which students will acquire 10 credits in American Indian Studies: AIS 475A and AIS 270. The majority of the two classes will focus on the experiential learning inherent to the program, to be complemented with writing components throughout. 

The application is due Jan. 27, 2017. The program will take place during summer quarter B Term 2017 from July 20 to August 19. Two letters of recommendation are required and the number of student participants will be capped at 15. The total cost is currently $3,850. Scholarships are also available. 


Reach reporter Dalton Day at Twitter: @daltonjday

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