Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Tribal Canoe Journey to Help Restore Salish Sea Resources

Right-click and save to download

Detailed Description

Water quality in the Salish Sea will be measured during the Coast Salish annual summer canoe voyage, the Tribal Journey.

This project will blend traditional knowledge of the Coast Salish People with USGS science in an effort to help improve management of ancestral waters experiencing environmental decline.




Public Domain.



[Begin Music]

Jennifer LaVista: Welcome, and thanks for tuning in to this episode of CoreCast. I'm Jennifer LaVista. In an exciting new partnership between the Coast Salish Tribal Nation...

[End Music]

...and the US Geological Survey, water quality in the Salish Sea will be measured during the Coast Salish Annual Summer Canoe Voyage: The Tribal Journey.

This dynamic partnership will blend Coast Salish knowledge with USGS science to help manage environmental resources of the Salish Sea. Joining me on the phone is USGS geologist, Eric Grossman, who is serving as a science adviser for the project. He's here to give us the inside scoop on the upcoming journey.

Eric, thanks for joining us!

Eric Grossman: Thanks for having me. It feels great.

Jennifer LaVista: Can you give me an overview of what the Tribal Journey is?

Eric Grossman: The Coast Salish Tribal Journey is a long standing tradition whereby tribes from Western Washington and First Nations from British Columbia travel by canoe to a common destination and essentially embracing the fact that they are of a common heritage.


Majority of the journey will start around July 14th, but there are a few canoe families coming from far up in British Columbia, Bella Coola that will start closer to July 8th, and they'll essentially follow six or so primary pathways along the coast to get to their final destination at Cowichan.

And along the way all these various tribes and canoe families camp and spend time getting to know everybody, and paddling together and essentially learning about their coastal environment and cherishing that ritual.

Jennifer LaVista: Can you please tell us what is the USGS doing in this project?

Eric Grossman: Well, it was a great honor to be invited by Coast Salish to help identify some of the coastal water quality and habitat problems that are affecting the marine resources of the Coast Salish eco region. And importantly, USGS is helping to determine what approaches will work for measuring those water quality and coastal habitat issues.


Scientists from geology in water are helping to deploy the technology, that instrumentation to make these measurements and do some of the quality control to interpret them. We're also teaching the Coast Salish young and old and folks on the canoes how to make these measurements as all of the different survey styles that we developed and so, we'll be empowering them to continue this type of science in the future if they choose.

And then, USGS will be helping to disseminate the data on a real time webcast showing the progress of the canoe journey day by day and some of the preliminary results.

Jennifer LaVista: Why is this journey important?

Eric Grossman: Well, the canoe journey is a long standing and culturally important tradition for Coast Salish where they take their youth and elderly, and together they spend several weeks traveling through their environment and they're practicing their ancestral ways. It's this journey, the travels through their coastal waters that Coast Salish depends on for their food, their life ways, and their culture.


And their identity is tied to the Coast Salish eco region. And so, being able to maintain the function of that ecosystem is paramount to their culture and their existence. And so, for science and resource management, this journey offers a very unique way of conducting the science in an effective way behind a traditional canoe which doesn't disrupt the water as instruments are deployed behind them measuring various water quality parameters and habitat traits.

And so, this becomes a really interesting opportunity to blend tradition and science as well as traditional knowledge to better understand what are the environmental changes that are occurring today. Are they impacting some of the coastal resources that we depend on; resources like salmons that are - many species that are plummeting in their population today , number of shell fish species and even endangered orca that are symbols of the entire Pacific Northwest.


So, the journey offers this really interesting way of bringing science to people that have had hundreds if not thousands of years of understanding as well as bringing that long history of understanding to science and how science can be used to effectively manage the resources.

Jennifer LaVista: And what implications does this journey have for the future?

Eric Grossman: To start two aspects of this. This first journey will really lay down a baseline data set of the condition during summer 2008. And we expect that we'll be measuring a number of different parameters like temperature, salinity, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, ph, and through the journey, we may end up mapping certain hot spots of water quality concerns.


For example, excessive turbidity areas that are known to influence the gills of fish or temperature and salinity anomalies that influence different biota whether it's plants or juvenile salmons that need low salinities during their first few months of life or dissolved oxygen - low dissolved oxygen that are also important symbiota.

So, this first year will set the baseline of water quality trace and characteristics along the coastal zone of the Coast Salish region. But then coming back through future years by doing repeat surveys along the same general pathways that the Coast Salish followed during this canoe journeys, we'll be able to begin monitoring and examining trends in those water quality parameters.


And following on that, Coast Salish folks as well as USGS and other scientific partners will be able to use this data to better understand what kinds of pressures are facing the environment and use this in more respective resource management.

Jennifer LaVista: Eric, is there anything that you'd like to add?

Eric Grossman: Well, I just hope that anyone interested can tune in and potentially come out and watch these hundreds of canoes paddling through the Puget down Coast Salish region, and thank you for all your support.

Jennifer LaVista: Eric, thanks for the taking the time to get us up to speed on this journey. You can follow the Coast Salish Tribal Journey by logging on to where you'll find the latest press releases, videos, podcasts, photos and much more.

[Begin Music]

That does it for this episode of CoreCast. CoreCast is a product of the US Geological Survey, Department of the Interior. Until next time, I'm Jennifer LaVista.

[End Music]



Resources related to this episode:

  • Follow the Tribal Journey's progress through press releases, maps, videos and photos by visiting
  • The project is supported through the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Northwest Straits Commission, USGS and the Potlatch Fund. For information on the Coast Salish Project or to learn more about the history, peoples, and mission of the Coast Salish, visit


Show Transcript