Haida carver Saaduuts leads the log blessing at South Lake Union Park. Photo by Philip H. Red Eagle
Haida carver Saaduuts leads the log blessing at South Lake Union Park. Photo by Philip H. Red Eagle
Boating in Seattle is a breezy way to enjoy the water, get some sun and spend time with friends. But it can be more than just recreational. Boating — in particular canoeing — can be a cultural and spiritual activity, as well.

The United Indians of All Tribes Foundation (UIATF), the Center for Wooden Boats (CWB) and Antioch University Seattle launched a project on Oct. 30 to carve Native canoes at Seattle’s Lake Union Park.

“It’s so good for people to learn about Native carving,” said Cynthia Updegrave, a teacher at Antioch who has incorporated the project into the curriculum of her environmental studies class. “The idea is to get people to come down here and carve. It’s open to the public and is there for the community to learn [about Native culture]. It makes me really happy when so many people are out there carving.”

The canoe project will produce the first canoes carved on the west side of the park, where UIATF also plans to build the new Northwest Native Canoe Center.

While the UIATF wanted to build the center for the last 10 years, this carving project has finally started the realization of the dream.

“For me, it’s an ultimate goal to help kick-start the center. This building project has been in the works for a decade. I just seems that now that all the parts and pieces are in place,” said UIATF vice chair Steve Paul.

Respecting a culture
The canoe project is expected to take approximately 14 months to complete. CWB’s portable pavilion structure has temporarily moved to the carving side of the park to provide more winter protection for the logs and carvers. Throughout the year, Antioch students, students from local public schools and volunteers will assist in carving the canoes.

CWB artist-in-residence Saaduuts, who has carved five canoes, is overseeing the project. The CWB itself is acting as a fiscal sponsor, handling all financing and contributions.
The current log the project has will yield two canoes, one for racing. More canoes are expected to be carved with additional logs.

Antioch has a history of working with tribal communities on behalf of Native student education.

“Antioch got involved to help with grant writing because we needed a project. We wanted to be able to give something away and decided on the canoe project,” Updegrave explained. “It’s cultural activity that we wanted to support. Antioch is now teaching an ecology program for students to learn about respect, humanity, different cultures and uses of the forest.”

Updegrave said Antioch’s liberal arts, interdisciplinary and social-justice orientation provided the right connection for involvement with this project.

“This fits Antioch not with just environment studies such as planting trees, but making sure people who have lived here a very long time are respected,” she said.

‘Connecting the dots’
UIATF’s plans include two buildings between Westlake Avenue and Lake Union, just north of the pedestrian bridge across Waterway 3. The buildings will be made from timber with glazed surfaces and with views of the lake and beach.

The center will feature a range of activities highlighting indigenous maritime heritage, provide access to the Lake Union waterfront and offer Native-inspired catering, according to a press release.

Founded in 1970, the UIATF has a mission to sustain a sense of identity, tradition and well-being for Native people in the Puget Sound by promoting their cultural, economic and social welfare.

“Traditionally, canoes are gifted to a ‘canoe family,’ which is a group connected with one of the coastal tribes that doesn’t have such a canoe,” said Dan Leach of the CWB, regarding the relevance of canoes to Native culture. “The last canoe Saaduuts built was a year ago and was given as a gift to the Nisqually tribe.”

Paul of UIATF secured the project when he realized he had access to donated wood.
“When I met Cynthia, I talked about carving another canoe,” he said. “My construction company had finished taking down some trees at Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace [in Bellevue]. I talked to her about the trees and the ability I had to transport them.… It just made sense to connect the dots.”

For more information about getting involved in the canoe project, contact Cynthia Updegrave at Antioch University Seattle at (206) 268-4000.

For information about getting involved in the larger project to construct the Northwest Native Canoe Center, contact Janeen Comenote at United Indians of All Tribes Foundation at (206) 285-4425.

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