Nurturing Cultural Identity Through Home Visiting: Honoring Indigenous Peoples Day

Start Early Washington’s Training and Technical Assistance Specialist Alex Patricelli shares her Native cultural practice of canoe journeys, the profound significance of culture for children and families and the pivotal role home visitors play in nurturing cultural identity.

Alex Patricelli October 5, 2023
  • Family Engagement
  • Professional Development
  • Blog

Echoing Resilience: Intertribal Canoe Journeys

Mateo (6) and Kulani (4) patiently wait for canoes to arrive*

October celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day, honoring Indigenous People’s legacy, traditions and invaluable contributions.

In the rich tapestry of Indigenous coastal communities of the Pacific Northwest, Canada and Alaska, the timeless art of canoeing embodies more than just transportation — it represents profound journeys that symbolize unity, resilience, and a deep connection to the land and the water.

Start Early Washington’s Training and Technical Assistance Specialist Alex Patricelli shared how she reclaimed her Native culture and traditions with her young boys Mateo (6) and Kulani (4) through the celebration of intertribal canoe journeys at the 2023 Paddle to Muckleshoot.

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Why is culture important?

In an increasingly interconnected world, embracing one's cultural identity is more important than ever, particularly for children and families. Culture is foundational to shaping our values, beliefs and actions while offering a sense of belonging, understanding and pride.
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Canoes waiting for tribal permission to come ashore, Seattle in the background*

For generations, coastal tribal communities relied on canoes for daily life. However, cultural ties were severed when canoeing was banned in the U.S. and Canada in the 20th century. More than 100 years passed before this restriction was lifted. In 1989, coastal communities reclaimed the canoe with an intertribal canoe journey to symbolize the resilience and survival of traditional practices against colonization and Western assimilation challenges.

In preparation for the 2023 epic canoe journey, Alex wanted to make her boys custom drums. The drum is regarded as the heartbeat of Indigenous culture in ceremonies, celebrations and spiritual gatherings.

Custom drums for Mateo and Kulani*

Alex’s vision for the drums was clear: to harmoniously blend her son’s multifaceted cultural identities, uniting them as brothers while also preserving their individuality. She soaked the deer hide, skillfully assembled the drum kits and hand-painted each drum. The drums serve as a canvas for symbolism, where a turtle and manta ray take center stage through distinct imagery.

Canoe journeys symbolize ancestral unity, resilience, and a deep connection to the world for our family.

Alex Patricelli, Start Early Washington's Training and Technical Assistance Specialist
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Alex elaborated on the origins of her art designs, “The outer ring symbolizes the boys’ Native heritage, inspired by the ‘formline’ design of Coastal Native artwork. Within the lines, both drums bear the symbols of a turtle and manta ray, which hold cultural significance to our Chamorro and Filipino heritage and represent qualities of persistence, wisdom, patience, good fortune, power and protection.”

Alex further emphasized, “drums are regarded as living entities and not just musical instruments; before a drum can be used, we awaken their spirit by burning sage and infusing them with good thoughts, energy and blessings. Mateo and Kulani are learning to respect and understand the hand drum’s cultural significance, a vital part of our families’ cultural teachings and identity that we’ve worked hard to reclaim for our family.”

*all photos credited to Alex Patricelli

Weaving Culture into Life’s Fabric: Home Visiting Support

In the grand tapestry of existence, culture isn’t just a thread; it’s the essence shaping our being, infusing a profound sense of belonging, pride and identity. Home visitors uniquely foster cultural identity by inviting families to share traditions and beliefs, where cultural exchange can flourish. Just as each family is unique, so is their cultural expedition. “Tailoring support to align with each family’s cultural values and goals is essential. Home visitors have the opportunity to intentionally prioritize cultural integration through community events, group connections and home visits.”

Here are a few examples of how home visitors nurture cultural identity:

  • Active Listening: Home visitors can identify significant cultural practices by listening to families’ stories and experiences. This helps build trust and rapport.
  • Intergenerational Bonding: Encouraging families to interweave the wisdom of grandparents and elders fosters intergenerational bonds and embraces the passage of cultural heritage.
  • Resource Sharing: Providing families with resources, books and materials that celebrate their culture encourages them to incorporate cultural elements into their daily lives. Additionally, helping families celebrate cultural milestones, such as festivals and holidays, by suggesting activities or connecting them with local cultural events is invaluable.

Home visitors partner with families by honoring and preserving cultural identity to foster a profound sense of belonging and pride for generations to come.

Learn more about how Start Early Washington supports home visiting programs.

About the Author

Alex Patricelli, Technical Assistant and Training Specialist, Start Early Washington

Alex Patricelli

Technical Assistant and Training Specialist, Start Early Washington

Alex Patricelli supports home visiting programs across Washington state and facilitates cross-model communities of practice for both home visitors and supervisors.

More About Alex Patricelli