I have mentioned in previous blogs the importance of first observing behavior and then later understanding what the motivation behind a behavior might be. Sometimes the motivation for a behavior might be illusive and hard to define or understand. When that is the case, it’s important to keep one’s culture stress or anxiety in check so that bad or judgmental attitudes don’t develop causing damage to relationships.

Balance in a watercraft is very important when navigating any body of water whether by motor or by paddle. We have laws in our culture to mitigate the chance of someone drowning in the case of a capsized vessel. These laws have been put in place for our protection and safety. We sometimes kick against those laws, but deep down we know they are for our good.

What about where there are no such laws? What is in place to protect people traveling on the water? If you were to visit a tribe that lives next to a river you would observe that men stand in canoes and women sit. The men have long paddles and the women have short paddles. What motives that behavior? Safety!! Let me explain.

The typical canoe is carved from a cedar tree making it light and durable. Standard length is approximately 15 feet with a width of 18 inches. No keel is crafted on the bottom of the canoe; they are round and smooth. Balancing a canoe is learned at an early age by the boys. The boys learn to paddle by standing at the bow of the canoe while his father commandeers the rear at the stern. As the boy grows in strength, he will be given more and more opportunity to paddle from the stern. After a boy is well trained, he stands in the canoe with one foot in the middle and one foot up on the side of the canoe. Such a stance gives maximum control for steering, pushing off and avoiding logs and navigating through stronger current when necessary. Really, paddling a canoe is like riding a bike.

Girls in the tribe also learn how to handle themselves in a canoe and it is done by sitting down. Their paddles are much shorter enabling them to contribute power strokes assisting the man controlling the canoe at the back. As well, the girls will learn to place the cargo and manage any children in to craft. These responsibilities will be taught to them by their mothers.

So, what’s the motivation behind such well-defined roles in the operation of a canoe. I can’t help but think it’s safety. The men have the strength to perform their task and the women have to capacity to assist and look after the children. And it works! I can’t think of a time when a mishap took place on the river. The competence of the people to work together and stay safe in their cultural roles was amazing and effective.

In the attached photo, a woman’s paddle is featured above the man’s paddle. Notice the shape of the paddles: the woman’s paddle represents an eel tail and is design for paddling only. The man’s paddle is concave at the end represents a catfish tail. The concave pattern allows a man to push off logs with better control.

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