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Learning and Culture: Tawni’s Story


Tawni is a thoughtful and artistic young woman who was recently accepted to VIUs First Nations Arts program. She is looking forward to earning her arts degree and then pursuing a teaching degree so she can teach First Nations Art in high school. Her high school offered opportunities to explore aboriginal arts and culture, hosting drum circles and getting students to help carve a raven totem pole that was raised at their graduation ceremony this summer.

Tawni first joined Tribal Journey 2 years ago at the urging of her best friend, who had been involved in previous journeys. She found this year a little challenging as she tried to balance her academic priorities with the canoe practices, and ended up having to join the paddle crew when they landed in Seattle. She did get to paddle for the last 5 days on the journey to Nisqually.

She put her artistic skills to work participating in the regalia preparations – weaving cedar bracelets that were worn by paddlers and given as gifts to other nations. She talks about how the songs they sing as protocol during the paddle are also gifts - to themselves and to the other nations.

Tawni described the pride she felt in her canoe family as they were arriving in Nisqually and of the warm welcome she received there. She even takes out her phone to show pictures of the hundreds of people lining the shores as they waited to be invited to land. “You have to wait for all the canoes to arrive, and then you need to ask permission to come on to the land. You have to show respect for the protocol.” She also talks about how it felt to be part of the canoe family. “There is a sense of equality in the canoe – of acceptance. Everyone is there for each other, supporting one another. We know that arriving at our final destination that we got there together, and the people there are there for us.” The time on the water is a healing experience: “you clear your mind; it’s just you and the water”.

Tawni’s grandpa was also part of the Journey, as an elder on the support boat, and she cherishes the time she was able to spend with him. While elders are there to help guide the paddlers through teachings, Tawni is quick to acknowledge that most learning moments aren’t planned, and come naturally as opportunities and challenges present themselves.

As a newer paddler, she would encourage anyone to take part in the Tribal Journey. “It’s an opportunity to meet new people, make new friends, learn new songs and learn about other cultures.”

Being out on the water, paddling for hours every day comes with some challenges. She acknowledges that the physical strain can make her short-tempered or frustrated with her canoe family sometimes, but she releases that negativity out on the water. “Tribal Journey is a lot of sweat, hard work, tears and fun. A lot of fun.”

Photo by Tawni

Photo by Tawni


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