Carving a canoe teaches history, culture

Posted January 2, 2011 11:54 a.m. EST

Project Education: Edutopia, a partnership between WRAL-TV and the George Lucas Educational Foundation, shows how a carving project taught history and Native American culture to Seattle students.

Seattle schools and the nonprofit Carving Cultural Connections partnered to give seventh-grade students at Alternative School 1 a living history lesson.

CCC founder Sadduts Peele is a member of the Native American Haida tribe and a master carver in the Alaskan village of Hydaburg.

Peele taught 40 seventh graders how to carve a 6-ton cedar log into a traditional voyaging canoe used by his tribe.

"The biggest challenge was for the children to learn about creating something – from a dream or a vision into reality and taking time to live through a process," CCC director Melissa Koch said.

The canoe-carving exercise taught students discipline and teamwork, Koch said.

"If you don't give up and you keep on working every day in a disciplined fashion and together as community, (then) you can create something absolutely wonderful," she said.

Former AS-1 Principal Ron Snyder gave lessons so the children could learn to paddle the canoe themselves. The hands-on experience drives home the lessons, he said.

"Experienced-based education sticks," Snyder said. "You really find out not about some twisted figment of history, but about you, yourself and your relationship to your history."

Culminating a three-year effort, the AS-1 students and their parents traveled to southeastern Alaska to present the canoe to the Hyda tribe.

The students and Peele paddled the canoe up to the shore of a river, where members of the tribe waited to welcome them.

"It made my heart cry with joy to see the cultural connection when my people are standing on the beach waiting to receive the canoe. It touched everybody on both sides of the connection," Peele said. "And that's what the whole thing is about."