Indigenous peoples around the world and especially around the Pacific Rim have been actively revitalizing their rich watercraft traditions since the 1970s and 80s. This work has focused on researching and creating tribally-specific traditional indigenous watercraft such as dugout canoes, log rafts, bark canoes, and tule balsa boats. This process has entailed recovering Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) about trees, plants, cordage (botany), waterways, rivers, currents, ocean tides (hydrology/oceanography), as well as the areas of construction and design and navigation (astronomy). Tribal canoe revitalization also requires reviving all of the cultural knowledge that goes with these traditions, such as songs, dances, offerings, feasts, and ceremonies. Due to multiple waves of colonization and the disruption and loss of TEK, many indigenous communities have looked to both their TEK and to Western science to guide them in the process of creating functional and beautiful watercraft today. As a Native researcher, I have been documenting this process through archival research, oral histories, media, and writing. Through the Cultural Conservancy, an indigenous rights nonprofit organization, we have been actively involved with this process through hands-on educational workshops with California Indian communities and the Maori community of Aotearoa (New Zealand).
This presentation will propose that the indigenous canoe revitalization movement is a promising and important area where a poly-cognitive science is emerging, one that incorporates holistic Native science (Cajete 2005), TEK, and Western scientific fields, specifically botany, hydrology, oceanography, design, and astronomy. This process also engages a poly-cognitive pedagogy by utilizing both Western rational, linear learning styles and more artistic, creative learning styles and indigenous methodologies such as metaphor, symbols, dreams, dances, and songs (areas usually relegated as “the arts”). Tribal canoe revitalization is a significant area also because it revolves around a finite container, a boat that is a microcosm for a community or ecosystem or biosphere. The tribally-specific resurgence of these cultural vessels, or treasures as the Maori call them, embodies the emergence of new native ecologies. Included in this is the concept of a lifeboat, something highly relevant for indigenous peoples today as they (and we all) face unpredictable climate disruption and the need to navigate turbulent waters and find resilient, sustainable solutions.