PUTAKKUP, Wash. - It's been a dream for some; a longing for others. For the
students at Chief Leschi, having their own canoe is now a reality.
Thanks to a dedicated group of teachers and administrators, the canoe,
called Spirit of the Wolf Protects, will be an integral part of the
teachings at the elementary, middle and high schools.
Culture Coordinator Peggy McCloud said the new 34-foot, cedar-stripped
canoe will bring connection to students and help keep their minds, bodies
and spirits strong. "We can continue our ancestral teaching with this
beautiful canoe. So many of our songs are about the water and mountains.
The students can deepen their understanding of their heritage and who they
really are," she remarked.
Capt. Connie McCloud began the Puyallup Canoe Family 11 years ago to offset
destructive behavior on the rise in her community. She knows the canoe will
bring healing and strength.
"The canoe families offer students a way to learn about our ancestors, who
were positive people and doing good things. They'll learn about their
relationship to the water, to each other and how to treat each other
respectfully," she said.
She wanted to show young people the healthy side of their culture and
encourage children to be proud of who they are. "There's a lot of grieving,
hardship, drug and alcohol abuse that our children are confronted with,"
said Connie McCloud. "Being a part of a canoe family offers a chance to
celebrate with others their true spirit and identity. It brings back their
culture, language, dance, and develops leadership. They learn to work
together to accomplish the journey," she added.
Being in a canoe family requires commitment. The Puyallup Canoe Family
meets weekly and has alternate sessions on physical health, traditional
teachings, family communication and substance abuse prevention. In fact,
people who become part of a canoe family, either as paddlers or support
crew, agree to be drug-, alcohol-, tobacco- and violence-free. Additional
meetings take place on the water, where they practice paddling, learn
cold-water rescue and attend classes in first aid and CPR.
Fifteen-year-old Oscar Saluskin has been on three canoe journeys and is
glad Chief Leschi is getting its own canoe. "It's fun to go out paddling.
You get to meet a lot of new people, travel on the water to different
coastal tribes and make new friends," said the sophomore. He appreciates
learning how the tides affect how fast the group must paddle.
"Each canoe has its own personality ... its own spirit. It brings us
through good and bad times, and we learn from that," Saluskin said.
Lead Puyallup Canoe Family skipper Clinton McCloud is responsible for each
person on the canoe. He said it's important for pullers to have a clear
mind and focus. Out on the water they sing traditional songs, have fun and
enjoy being peaceful. "I want to make my pullers happy," he said. "I try to
joke around and make them laugh. When there's positive energy, the canoe
Lolli Arabia said being a part of the Puyallup Canoe Family has taught her
to be more patient and get over her fear of water. "I'm more in touch with
my spirit," said the 14-year-old. "I've learned a lot about myself, and to
just keep going when things seem hard and not to give up."
Empowering students is one of the many exciting aspects of the canoe, said
Superintendent Ray Lorton. He thinks having the hands-on learning
experience for the children from more than 60 tribes at the school will
bring many rewards. "The major benefit will be the inspiration it will
bring for our students to learn more about the historical value of the
canoe and its spiritual meaning," he remarked.
Knowing that he was carving it for the kids was a major inspiration to
Theron Parker. As the lead canoe builder, Parker, along with his assistant
Dwight Tevuk, honored the canoe many times through songs, silent prayer and
spoken words during the months-long carving process. Parker, Makah, has
been carving for more than 30 years and has built 14 canoes.
"It's all about the young people. It's about teaching them," said Parker.
He said the purpose of the canoe is to "bring all nations together." Asked
about his involvement in carving the canoe for Chief Leschi, Parker
replied, "It's been the greatest honor ever."