Tribes combine tradition with science

MOUNT VERNON (March 20, 2008) – During this summer’s annual Canoe Journey, Northwest tribes plan to blend modern science with traditional ways, by collecting water quality data from their canoes.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is assisting with the technology, which was first used with canoes last year during a watershed healing journey on the Yukon River. As paddlers make their journey, a 15-pound probe about 2 feet long is towed behind the canoe. The probe samples the water at set intervals to measure temperature, dissolved oxygen, salinity and nutrients.

“No one has ever taken basic water quality measurements simultaneously from different points throughout the Coast Salish region,” said Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Tribe. “The best way to collect it is from the back of a canoe, because the data is so sensitive.”

If taken from a motorboat, the readings would be tainted by the exhaust and propeller turbulence.

“I love that native people are the first to use this technology,” said Jon Waterhouse, who is part of the Coast Salish tribal community and director of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council, which piloted this method of data-gathering.

The research will contribute to a larger information-sharing network among all the Coast Salish tribes in western Washington and British Columbia. Many of these tribes came together in February for the third Coast Salish Gathering, and many participate in the annual Canoe Journey, which this year will culminate in Cowichan, B.C.

“We’re combining culture and science for the betterment of the environment,” said Mel Sheldon, chairman of the Tulalip Tribes.

Half a dozen canoes traveling each of the five or six main routes in the journey will be outfitted with a probe. Global Positioning System (GPS) technology will mark the location of each water sample.

“The probe is like towing a sea anchor,” Waterhouse said. “We go about a mile per hour slower than the other canoes. When they’re coasting, we have to paddle.”

Scientists hope to incorporate the tribes’ traditional knowledge of the ecosystem into their research. “Our historic scientific records go back 50 to 100 years, but theirs go back thousands of years,” said Eric Grossman, a USGS geologist working with the tribes.

For more information, contact: Brian Cladoosby, Swinomish Tribal Chairman, at 360-466-7205 or [email protected], or Mel Sheldon, Tulalip Tribal Chairman at 360-651-4000, or Kari Neumeyer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, at 360-424-8226 or [email protected].