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Posted on: August 8th 2016


Four members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation have made their way to Seattle, Washington, to join forces with other Native American tribes in the annual Tribal Canoe Journey, known this year as Paddle to Nisqually.They are catching the tail end of a canoe journey that began earlier this month, with paddlers en route to the home of the Nisqually tribe, about 15 miles east of Olympia, Washington. The theme focuses on the waters and the tribes’ connection to it—which resonates with the Shinnecock who will participate.

Ms. Bullock, an activist who lives in Rhode Island and works at Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in Mashantucket, Connecticut, was invited to participate in the annual Tribal Canoe Journey on the West Coast in 2011 by Steve Anderson of East Hampton.


Mr. Anderson became a channel through which the Shinnecock began participating in the canoe journey. While on a road trip 10 years ago to the Northwest—a mission to help friends get sober—local tribes invited him to participate in a drum circle, which turned into an invitation to join the canoe voyage.


Since then, he has invited indigenous peoples to paddle with him in a canoe he bought on the West Coast. In 2011, he invited Ms. Bullock and Roddy Smith from the Shinnecock Indian Nation to paddle with him. From there, Ms. Bullock and Mr. Anderson were inspired to organize a canoe journey on the East Coast in 2012 that began at Westwoods, tribe-owned land in Hampton Bays, and ended at Connecticut’s Stoddard Hill State Park. This year, Ms. Bullock was again invited to the Tribal Canoe Journey by Mr. Anderson, who is providing a canoe and helped organize and pay for travel to the launch site. “He’s definitely going above and beyond to help us with access to the coastal ways,” Ms. Bullock said.


The theme of the canoe journey is “Don’t Forget the Water.” Canoe journeys and reconnecting with water is also a way to spread messages of sobriety and substance abuse prevention among young tribe members, Ms. Bullock said. “When you’re out there paddling, you can’t be drinking, you can’t be smoking, you can’t be hanging out with the wrong crowd,” she said. “Those are things I can see my community adopting because we once had that.” There are 10 rules of the canoe journey that fit with that message, Ms. Bullock said, one of which states, “There is to be no abuse of self or others.”


Aiyana Smith is a substance abuse counselor and director of prevention services at Alternative Counseling Services, Inc. and said that while it is important to focus on water and the issues that affect it, it is also important to raise awareness about substance abuse. “We’re in a crisis, especially in Suffolk County,” she said. Ms. Smith was first introduced to a prevention program based on canoe journeys around 2008 and began working with tribal youth on those ideas.  “It’s all about raising awareness about love for yourself and love for the earth and love for the water,” she said.