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Architect provides historic overview, updates on Northwest Native Canoe Center

Architect Bruce Arnold

View the livestream from the event here.

Last Friday, dozens gathered at The Center for Wooden Boats to listen to architect Bruce Arnold share plans for the Northwest Native Canoe Center being built in Lake Union Park. The hour-long presentation, as part of The Center for Wooden Boats Third Friday Speaker Series, detailed the half-century fight for a Native canoe center on Lake Union, and how we are close to breaking ground.

Bruce Arnold, AIA, from Jones & Jones Architects and Landscape Architects, detailed the plans for the project, which includes a Welcome House and Canoe Carving House. Complete with a living roof and carved Welcome Figure, the Northwest Native Canoe Center “will provide insight into distinctive varieties of Native American culture” for tribal members, Seattle residents, and visitors, according to Seattle Parks and Recreation.

Just across Lake Union Park Bridge from The Center for Wooden Boats and MOHAI, the Northwest Native Canoe Center will be neighbors with The Center for Wooden Boats. One audience member shared that The Center for Wooden Boats and Northwest Native Canoe Center “complete each other,” as together they are the “story of the Pacific Northwest.”Northwest Native Canoe Center on Lake Union

While the Canoe Center does encapsulate a significant history of the Pacific Northwest and will be utilized by many, the project hasn’t come easy. To understand the Northwest Native Canoe Center’s inception, “You have to go back to [UIATF’s] story for their advocacy and stewardship for the canoe center project,” says Arnold. The vision for this project came from Bernie Whitebear, UIATF founder and protester in the Fort Lawton takeover. Whitebear’s vision for Urban Natives, along with the founding of UIATF, included a canoe center in the city center.  The original architect and designer of the Northwest Native Canoe Center, Johnpaul Jones, FAIA, and Bernie Whitebear sat together in the 1970’s, creating the first sketches of the Canoe Center (these original sketches have unfortunately been lost due to a flood).

Through decades of environmental planning, designs and redesigns, rising costs, and permitting, the project has remained a high priority goal of UIATF and Executive Director Mike Tulee. The tenacity required to make this founder’s dream a reality speaks to the importance of the center and, as Arnold shared, Natives being “the most resilient, adaptive people [he’s] come across.” After over 50 years of advocacy, planning, and fundraising, we can anticipate breaking ground in early 2024, according to Seattle Parks and Recreation.

The Northwest Native Canoe Center will be a part of the UIATF’s many cultural programs and services. To support programs like the Northwest Native Canoe Center, click here.

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