Peaceful Waters - Boat building exchange yields rewards

When Kyra Paitrick came back from helping people in the devastated neighborhoods of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, it was with a newfound resolve to become more involved in the lives of other people in a significant and lasting way. Tha...

When Kyra Paitrick came back from helping people in the devastated neighborhoods of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, it was with a newfound resolve to become more involved in the lives of other people in a significant and lasting way. That's why she didn't hesitate when an instructor of hers at The College of St. Scholastica encouraged her to apply for a Sister Cities Exchange trip to Petrozavodsk, Russia.

Paitrick, a senior at Scholastica majoring in Native American Studies and Ojibwe Language, saw the exchange trip as the perfect opportunity to learn more about people in another part of the world and share what she could of her own culture with them.

The cultural exchange trip, sponsored by the Duluth Sister Cities Commission and the Fond du Lac Reservation, focused on the eminently simple - yet culturally profound - task of boat building. The plan was for the group from northern Minnesota, including several Native Americans highly skilled in the art of canoe making, to travel to Petrozavodsk and build a birch bark canoe alongside a team of native Russians, who were in turn planning to build a traditional Karalian fishing boat.

Paitrick filled out the required application forms and was accepted as a participating member of the exchange group, one of several students selected to take part. The group departed on June 14 and flew first to Frankfort, Germany, where they stayed in apartments and spent four days sight seeing.

They then traveled to Petrozavodsk and each member of the visiting group was assigned to stay with a family there.


"I was the only one who was assigned to a family who spoke very little English," Paitrick said with a smile. "I think it was because I am very open minded and willing to experience whatever comes my way."

The exchange group from the Duluth area worked alongside the Russian boat building team and assembled the birch bark canoe in under two weeks, with each of the team members participating in various ways.

"While I tried to help out in whatever way was needed at the time," said Paitrick, "my primary responsibility was to keep the fire going all day long to boil the water to steam the birch bark. Often, I went there before breakfast to get it started before the rest of the crew showed up to begin work."

The local group was guided in their efforts by Fond du Lac's Charles Nagahnub, Jeff Savage, curator of the History and Cultural Museum on the Fond du Lac Reservation, and craftsman Marvin Defoe, who have built a number of such canoes before.

Paitrick said she also had ample opportunity to spend time observing the Russian group of boat builders to learn how they plied their native trade as well.

At the conclusion of the project, a ceremonial boat launching was held on the nearby lake, and Paitrick was privileged to be one of the team members to ride in the newly completed canoe.

During the course of the group's visit, Paitrick said they were treated almost like celebrities, with groups of school children asking for their autographs, television and newspaper crews requesting interviews and even an invitation to participate in a local parade.

"One thing that really came out of all this," Paitrick commented, "was the chance to break down some of the cultural stereotypes many of us so often embrace. Most of the people over there have only been exposed to Native Americans in the movies, and some of the people back here at home have asked us if everyone over there wears fur hats!"


The group from Minnesota had the opportunity to do some sight seeing as well as working on their boat building project - including a white water rafting expedition - and Paitrick especially enjoyed the chance to meet young children similar to those she works with each summer at the Kids Corner School Age Child Care Program in Cloquet. She learned the art of native doll making from one of the women she met, and in turn, she demonstrated her own skills in Native American beading.

"The people there were very welcoming and kind," reflected Paitrick, "and we became very close to them in a short period of time."

On Monday, Paitrick spent time telling the children she works with in the Kids Corner program about her trip. They had the chance to play with a couple of sets of traditional Russian "nesting" dolls she brought back with her, and she showed them how to make the cloth dolls she learned to craft while there.

And as for the birch bark canoe the group built on their trip - it was donated to a group of Russian youths similar to the Boy Scouts, who plan to use it in their scientific research projects. Paitrick hinted that there may be another exchange trip to meet with the people of Petrozavodsk in the future - to follow up on how far the canoe has taken them.

Pine Journal Publisher/ reporter Wendy Johnson can be contacted at: .

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