When Natasha Yaknanaak turned 18 last April, she received a large sum of money just like all of her peers in the Puyallup Tribe.
But unlike many Tribal members, some of whom have carelessly spent their dollars with nothing to show for it, Natasha Yaknanaak invested in her culture, starting a new tradition for her family and close friends.
Natasha Yaknanaak, who has been canoeing since age 10 and participating in the annual Canoe Journey since age 12, purchased a family-sized canoe and recreational vehicle as a way to bring together her loved ones in the name of spiritual wellness and cultural connection.
Last year, Natasha Yaknanaak and her closest family and friends took the canoe on its maiden voyage – the Paddle to Swinomish, the reservation that Natasha’s family has resided on for many years.
The 36-foot, 16-seater family canoe, named after Natasha’s Indian name Swaltcelitca or Seawolf, will go out again during this year’s journey. And the journey after that.
Aside from investing in the $18,000 Canadian-made canoe and RV to camp in during the journey nights, Natasha has set aside money to fund upcoming journeys for her family for years to come.
Natasha, a mother of 1-year-old William, said dedicating her money to the canoe journey was important to her for many reasons.
“A canoe is something you have forever, and someday I can pass down this canoe to someone in my family when they are my age.”
When she bought the canoe last May, her crew had just a few weeks of preparation before taking off on the journey. Her crew was a mix of family, friends, experienced pullers and first-time canoers.
“We’re kind of starting our own tradition,” she said. “It’s something to have everyone look forward to each summer… everyone comes together. We pull and pull and pray while we’re in the water, staying away from drugs and alcohol.”
Natasha graduated from La Connor High School last year, and is currently attending Northwest Indian College in Swinomish for her Associates degree. Her crew is currently preparing for the 2012 Paddle to Squaxin Island.
“I bought a canoe because it was drug and alcohol free. I’ve seen a few tribal members blow all their money on negative things. I wanted to have my family come together… and be a part of my crew.”