Canoe Journey

Canoe Journey

About the program

…to honor our Elders, inspire our youth, document the history of the Canoe Journey, and to contribute significantly to the lives of our urban Native American community by building on cultural strengths and assets.”

Portland Youth and Elders Council is working to preserve and enhance traditional culture in our urban Indian community through an emphasis on expanding arts and cultural education opportunities for community members and students in NAYA’s Early College Academy. NAYA Family Center is located on Neerchokikoo, the traditional site of Chinook people, located on the Columbia slough. Our long term vision is to bring community members together as a Canoe Family and participate in the Canoe Journey, an annual inter-tribal event which takes place in a different local waterway each year. Local tribes come together in a celebration of Canoe Culture to sing, dance, share food and art, carve canoe paddles and dig out canoes, and travel together. Canoe Families have a skipper to guide their path, pullers to carry and paddle the canoe, and a family on shore to support their journey.

Canoe Protocol

Before a Canoe Family can enter another tribe’s tribal territory, a ceremony called Canoe Protocol takes place. The Canoe Protocol identifies the arriving tribe with songs, dances and traditional greetings.

Culture Expressed Through Art

In order to prepare for the journey, PYEC is working to expand the programming at NAYA to offer comprehensive, culturally-specific education in…

  • Language
  • Dance, Drumming and Song
  • Clothing-Making
  • Wood-Carving
  • Visual arts – drawing and painting
  • Food and Agriculture

Education Through Tradition

Another vital component of this vision is to give community members valuable skills through their participation that can aid them in college and career; skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), Career Technical Education (CTE), and personal growth and development. Such skills include…

  • Design and Measurement
  • Soil and water quality measurement, management, and environmental science
  • Construction and sustainable building practices
  • Project and time management
  • Team building and practicing healthy relationships
  • Physical fitness, endurance and resiliency
  • Environmental awareness leading to indigenous activism

A Relational Worldview Awakening

The Relational Worldview informs every aspect of the programming at the NAYA Family Center. We believe that balance among all the areas of life is necessary to fulfill every person. The NAYA Family Center logo, the Medicine Wheel, represents the four areas of life (mind, body, spirit, and social context), and the Canoe Journey aids each area, bringing a sense of completeness and balance to the participants.

  • Education in arts, culture, STEM and CTE feed the mind, and gives us knowledge to carry on and share
  • Physical tasks like carving, pulling, and dancing, and eating traditional foods, nurture the body, and creating canoes, paddles and other objects gives us material reminders of our culture
  • Sacred dances, songs, and practices elevate the spirit, and reinforce pride in our identities
  • Building connections as a Canoe Family, a cultural community, and among local tribes strengthens our social context and provides a network of support

Ten Rules of the Canoe

  • Every stroke is one less we have to take. Keep going! Even against the most relentless wind or retrograde tide, somehow a canoe moves forward. This mystery can only be explained by the fact that each pull forward is a real movement and not a delusion.
  • No abuse of self or others. Respect and trust cannot exist in anger. It has to be thrown overboard, so the sea can cleanse it. It has to be washed off the hands and cast into the air, so the stars can take care of it. We always look back at the shallows we pulled through, amazed at how powerful we thought those dangers were.
  • Be flexible. The adaptable animal survives. If you get tired, ship your paddle and rest. If you get hungry, put in on the beach and eat a few oysters. If you can’t figure one way to make it, do something new. When the wind confronts you, sometimes you’re supposed to go the other way.
  • The gift of one enriches all. Every story is important. The bow, the stern, the skipper, the power puller in the middle – everyone is part of the movement. The elder sits in her cedar at the front, singing her paddle song, praying for us all. The weary paddler resting is still ballast. And there is always that time when the crew needs some joke, some remark, some silence to keep going, and the least likely person provides.
  • We all pull and support each other. Nothing occurs in isolation. When we aren’t in the family of a canoe, we are not ready for whatever comes. The family can argue, mock, ignore each other at its worst, but that family will never let itself sink. A canoe that lets itself sink is certainly wiser never to leave the beach. When we know that we are not alone in our actions, we also know we are lifted up by everyone else.
  • A hungry person has no charity. Always nourish yourself. The bitter person, thinking that sacrifice means self-destruction, shares mostly anger. A paddler who doesn’t eat at the feasts doesn’t have enough strength to paddle in the morning. Take that sandwich they throw at you at 2.00 A.M.! The gift of who you are only enters the world when you are strong enough to own it.
  • Experiences are not enhanced by criticism. Who we are, how we are, what we do, why we continue, flourish with tolerance. The canoe fellows who are grim go one way. The men and women who find the lightest flow may sometimes go slow, but when they arrive they can still sing. And they have gone all over the sea, into the air with the seagulls, under the curve of the wave with the dolphin and down to the whispering shells, under the continental shelf. Withdrawing the blame acknowledges how wonderful a part if it all every one of us really is.
  • The journey is what we enjoy. Although the start is exciting and the conclusion gratefully achieved, it is the long, steady process we remember. Being part of the journey requires great preparation; being done with a journey requires great awareness; being on the journey, we are much more than ourselves. We are part of the movement of life. We have a destination, and for once our will is pure, our goal is to go on.
  • A good teacher allows the student to learn. We can berate each other, try to force each other to understand, or we can allow each paddler to gain awareness through the ongoing journey. Nothing sustains us like that sense of potential that we can deal with things. Each paddler learns to deal with the person in front, the person behind, the water, the air, the energy; the blessing of the eagle.
  • When given any choice at all – be a worker bee and make honey.

The Ten Rules of the Canoe were developed by the Quileute Canoe contingent for a Northwest Experimental Education Conference in 1990.

Community Partners and Inspiration

Our Journey is inspired by the Canoe Families of regional tribes, along with the work of Portland Inter-Tribal Canoe Club, and the cultural teachings offered by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. We plan to engage with the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, National Indian Child Welfare Association, Future Generations Collaborative and Indigenous Environmental Network to inform our Journey.

A Journey In Progress

NAYA has already received several generous cash and in-kind donations to help make this project a reality, including a 17-foot aluminum canoe. This page will serve as a source of information about the project as we meet our goals and expand our vision. Check back again for updates on our progress!