PPCS Students Celebrate "Blooming Culture" By Building, Paddling Traditional Canoe


Coming together and celebrating our connections. That was the theme of a canoeing trip several students, their families, and members of different tribes took the first weekend in May.

In the classrooms of Palouse-Prairie Charter School, learning is hands-on. Every semester is an educational expedition, and this year's was all about our shared stories and how we can learn to understand one another a little better.

Words. They have inherent power, whether burned into a memory or into wood. Consider, for a moment, the word confluence.

"Two cultures are coming together, either having a clash or helping each other," PPCS 4th grader Connor Horne says. "For now our fourth grade crew is having a confluence of cultures with all these different tribes and we're helping them."

Jack Walquist explains further, "We're kind of talking about a confluence of cultures and you can see all these canoes that are here and they're all different families, different tribes. They're kind of coming here to show that they're part of this movement that's happening."

Fourth and seventh graders from Palouse-Prairie Charter School spent a semester learning about indigenous cultures and taking an active part in continuing their traditions.

"First we would do the keelboard, then the gunwales, and then the ribs," Connor describes the process of building a David Thompson style canoe, which in itself is a confluence of European and indigenous techniques. The kids had help from members of Voyages of Rediscovery, a Washington-based group that often takes kids on educational trips along the Columbia River.

The process of building the canoe started in March, and culminated with the paddling trip at Chief Timothy Park. But first - every canoe must have a name.

"It's named Blooming Culture because the Native Americans' culture, it's almost been like in the night when flowers are enfolded, and now spring is coming with all these people," Jack says, surveying the scene as canoes, both traditional and store-bought, join paddleboards and kayaks in the first of several floats.

Before its maiden voyage, tribal elders offered a blessing, smudging Blooming Culture with sage and wet cedar. Then this symbol of something once thought lost pushed off into the Snake River.

The crowd, watching from shore, erupted into cheers as the canoe-ful of kids took off around the island. As these families and tribes came together in a shared experience, culture was in every aspect of the trip, down to the paddles carved and decorated by students.

"A paddle means a sign of independence. Like a teenager getting their drivers license, you getting a paddle you can now go places because traditionally, that's how the Nimiipuu and other cultures got around," Connor says. The fourth graders carved their paddles, then a seventh grade partner decorated it with formline art learned from Samish artists during a trip to Orcas Island. "Formline art [...] is a bunch of simple shapes just combined together to make beautiful art," Connor says.

The students also woodburned the canoe and paddles with family mottos and words that symbolized what they'd learned from the semester-long expedition into historical and living indigenous cultures.

After this trip, those word now mean more. In our shared stories, the words we use are important, even if they're hard to say.

"It was very life-changing," Connor says of the paddling trip with tribal members. "Just that you're part of this [resurgence] of the traditional canoe and bringing back these tribes' culture. Like the Kalispell only have 150 members, but they're still here, their culture's still alive."

This is the second canoe PPCS students have made thanks to grants from the Nez Perce Tribe. Teacher Renee Hill hopes to make this an on-going tradition.

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