An ocean. A canoe. A person. This mantra outlines the vision advanced by Hawaiian native Nainoa Thompson, who will launch an ocean researcher-in-residence at William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science this fall with a week-long visit to meet with local tribal communities, researchers and students. .
Thompson is executive director of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and a leader in the traditional Polynesian art of non-instrumented navigation that has helped lead canoe voyages across the global ocean guided only by stars, waves, winds and sea life. He last visited the Chesapeake Bay area in 2016 on the world voyage of the Hōkūleʻa, the double-hulled voyage canoe that has helped revitalize the art of traditional boating since its launch in 1975.
The Ocean Researcher in Residence position, a first for W&M and VIMS, is the brainchild of Dr. Kirk Havens, Director of the Center for Coastal Resource Management at VIMS. Havens and Thompson became friends while paddling from Molokaʻi to Oʻahu in 1990, and joined forces when Hōkūleʻa visited the Chesapeake Bay in 2016.
The year-long ocean residency, mostly done remotely and at sea, will coincide with Hōkūleʻa’s upcoming voyage, a 3-year, 40,000-mile circumnavigation of the Pacific Ocean intended to inspire and educate. young people to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world. . This voyage is known as Moananuiākea, the Hawaiian word for Pacific waters.
“As a scholar in ocean residence,” says Havens, “we asked Nainoa to be a guide for engagement with indigenous cultures and to explore the idea of merging science with indigenous wisdom. He will be on campus in November speaking with students, faculty and staff, and helping local tribes connect with the Pacific voyage.
“What’s really important to us,” says Thompson, “is that while we focus on our house when we sail in the Pacific, we want to make sure that we are also focusing on the houses of others on Earth. So we really want to build those relationships, those bridges to education and to stay connected with the Chesapeake Bay and its communities. One such bridge is the idea of a free circumnavigation of the bay’s coastline led by local indigenous youth over the next few summers.
Dr. Derek Aday, Dean and Director of VIMS, notes that the residency aligns closely with the goals set out in W&M’s recent strategic plan. “The overarching goals of Vision 2026 are to expand the reach of William and Mary, educate to have impact, and evolve to excel,” says Aday. “Our partnership with the Polynesian Voyaging Society will contribute to all three of these goals and fits particularly well with the plan’s focus on finding innovative solutions to ensure the resilience of the world’s oceans, coasts and waterways.
Several other native Hawaiians will accompany Thompson on his November visit, including Lehua Kamalu, the first woman to serve as chief captain and chief navigator of the Hōkūleʻa on a traditional long-distance ocean crossing – the ancestral “sea route” of 2,500 miles between Hawaii and Tahiti known as Kealaikahiki.
Nikki Bass, a tribal councilor with the Nansemond Indian Nation of the southern Chesapeake Bay, is particularly enthusiastic about Kamalu’s participation in the larger scholar-in-residence program.
“Bringing our cultures together will be wonderful,” Bass says. “I’m so excited for Lehua to be here because I’ve done a lot of work on the role of women in environmental stewardship and our history on our waterways that has been forgotten. People often use the term “waterman” from the Chesapeake Bay, and the stories of women on the water are left in the background. Bringing this to the fore, sharing one woman’s story as a navigator and her relationship with the water will be truly inspiring for all of our young people, but especially for our young women.
Dr. Ashley Atkins Spivey, executive director of Kenah Consulting and member of the Pamunkey Tribal Council, also welcomes the strengthening of ties between indigenous communities in Polynesia and the Chesapeake Bay. Kenah Consulting, named after the Algonquian Powhatan word for “thank you,” is a Women and Minority-Owned (SWaM) small business that helps communities across Indian Country build capacity, economic opportunity and sovereignty. The SWaM Certification Program is a state program in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
“Education is a core mission of Nainoa’s work,” says Spivey, “and that resonates with us here because education is the essence of the work I’ve done and in partnership with other tribal communities. . And it’s not just about learning what we face and how we have to deal with it, but also learning from our ancestors how to deal with it. And I feel like there’s a huge disconnect, where the story of the work that we and our ancestors did in fisheries and conservation hasn’t been passed on to young people. Education must therefore be a key element, because if we do not know where these practices come from, in our relationship to the water and the bay, it will not have the necessary bases.
Building a foundation to carry indigenous wisdom into the future is indeed one of the stated goals of the Moananuiākea voyage around the Pacific, which aims to foster a new generation of 10 million “Navigators” – new voices for indigenous communities and champions for planet earth. Achieving this lofty goal, says Thompson, will require a “third canoe,” a networked platform of communications and education initiatives to bring the need for ocean sustainability to audiences around the world.
Local tribal leaders and VIMS educators are excited to help bring the third dinghy into the waters of the bay. “There’s a lot of interest in programs that bring together young people from different tribes and give them leadership and networking opportunities,” Bass says. “Kenah has also worked with our community, so we’re excited to work with them on this as well.” VIMS plans an important role in this effort through its existing educational and outreach programs, which include the K-12 Teacher Curriculum and Professional Development, the Bridge Ocean Science Education Resource Center, and a partnership with the Project JASONLearning.
“The virtual canoe can carry us and carry you, can carry a lot of other people,” says Thompson. “From our experiences with the Chesapeake Bay, it’s easy to see how humanity hurts the Earth, and it’s so hard to see humanity heal it, and it brings you to tears. And we’re so inspired by the work to heal the Chesapeake and want to be connected to that. People who walk around their house will understand it better and share it, because you can’t protect what you don’t understand.
“We’ll have a place in the canoe for everyone,” Havens said. “That’s what we’re working on now: a tribal connection to travel and this concept of an ocean that connects us all. If travel to the Pacific may inspire a trip to Chesapeake, may inspire a trip to Australia or elsewhere; if we can make that kind of connection through the concept of the virtual canoe, where everyone is connected and sharing their stories, that’s the kind of vision we’re hoping for.
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