NAYA Family Canoe Journey Project: A Relational Worldview Awakening

Jennifer Seamans, Watershed Center Manager, 503-823-2862 or 
with Mary Renville, Portland Youth & Elders Council, NAYA

NASA family canoe journey
The NAYA Canoe Family practices on Sunday, April 24, 2016 at Willamette Park using the loaner canoe, in preparation for the Paddle to Nisqually in July 2016.


Since April 2016, the South Portland and SWNI boards, the SWNI Equity Team and the SW Watershed Resource Center have endorsed and supported the NAYA Family Canoe Journey project. This project was started less than three years ago by a small group of elders and dedicated volunteers at the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) and has grown into a dynamic community effort made up of people from many walks of life.

Healthy People, Healthy Rivers

The project actively works to promote a healthy balanced lifestyle within the urban Native American community and considers this venture a revitalization of an ancient cultural practice based on sharing, celebrating and guiding our community. Reviving these traditional lifeways honors the original caretakers of this land and the Willamette River tributaries and watershed. The project also highlights the awareness that we are all connected through the health of our water and rivers.

In the worldview of Northwest Coastal Tribal Nations, the canoe journey has been a cultural practice since time began. While history shows that colonization nearly brought an end to the cultural protocols and potlatch celebrations, Tribal Nations survived and the canoe journey was revived.

Destination: Paddle to Nisqually

This year, from July 22-August 8, 2016, the NAYA Canoe Family will be participating in the “Paddle to Nisqually,” travelling by canoe with hundreds of other families from all over the world. From the starting point in the land of the Skokomish people, the NAYA Canoe Family will travel up the entire length of the Hood Canal and back down the Puget Sound to Nisqually.

This journey is an exciting undertaking, and dedicated NAYA Canoe Family pullers have been practicing bi-weekly on the Willamette River to develop their teamwork, endurance and healthy living skills. For the past 9 months the NAYA Canoe Family has been practicing at Cathedral Park, Kelley Point Park and Willamette Park (see photo, above). Currently, a 30’ oceangoing canoe is on loan to the family from a Skokomish master carver until the NAYA Canoe Family’s own 32’ oceangoing, cedar strip canoe is finished and ready for pick-up on May 29, 2016.

June 12 Canoe Blessing

The NAYA Canoe Family will conduct a ceremonial naming and blessing for the canoe that they will use in the Paddle to Nisqually in July and August. The naming and blessing ceremony will be held on June 12, 2016 starting at noon at Willamette Park. Everyone is invited to attend, and expected guests include canoe families from Columbia River Tribal Nations, local Tribal Nations, and Tribal Nations from southern Oregon.

Through the urging of southwest volunteers, NAYA and SWNI board and staff, Portland Parks & Recreation has granted a permit fee waiver for the June 12 event. This action is also prompting the creation of a new PP&R policy to consider permit fee adjustments in the future for organizations representing communities of color.

Support a Puller

NAYA Canoe Family pullers are gathering equipment, food and gifts for host Tribal Nations along their Paddle to Nisqually journey. For more information on how to donate to sponsor a puller, or the June 12 Canoe Naming and Blessing event at Willamette Park, visit the South Portland neighborhood page ( or the SW Watershed Resource Center Facebook page ( The Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) is the non-profit 501(c)3 fiscal agent for the NAYA Family Canoe Journey Project. Visit for more information.