Grounded in the Past, Looking to the Future
This is the mantra of the Warrior Institute, a grassroots organization utilizing a multifaceted and innovative approach to awaken the “warrior spirit” in Hupa Youth to actively pursue wellness, balance, and world renewal. One of the most exciting aspects of this program being the river program, lead by Joseph Marshall and Joshua Strange, who aim to guide the youth of California's north coast tribes to become true people of the river. The program doesn't just teach river running and white water boating skills.
Established in 2011, the Warrior Institute is currently an affiliate member of the not-for-profit Seventh Generation Fund. The institute has built an curriculum on "embracing the wisdom of the old and best of the new, while integrating physical, mental, and spiritual practices that cultivate true warriors with the drive, skills, and inspiration to lead us forward in a good way. Our implementation model is based on mentoring, leadership, and hands-on service learning experiences within a context of inter-generational, inter-tribal, and inter-cultural activities."
The Warrior Institute's mission is to awaken a new generation of young leaders with strong bodies, minds, and spirits empowered to create health, economic equality, environmental justice, and world renewal.
"Here at The Warrior Institute, we believe that empowering our youth to be of sound body, mind, and spirit is the most effective way to transform our Indigenous communities into vibrant centers for health, happiness, prosperity, and culture again. We know the ancient practice of world renewal can occur through renewal of our youth, who will grow to be the leaders of tomorrow. We understand this type of upstream social intervention, embodied by the Warrior Spirit, is the best way to for the problems we face to be overcome and for the light of a new day to shine the darkness away." -Warrior Institute, Mission Statement
To achieve this mission, three pathways to success are at the core of the warrior institute's programs and the concept of K’imaw; balance, medicine, and wellness, is deeply ingrained in every aspect of the three pathways. Each pathway has roots which are deeply ingrained in the ethos and spirit of Hupa culture and cultural identity as people of the river.
The 3 Pathways
The health pathway is built on the principal that "Physical health supports mental and emotional health, which allows us to reach our fullest potential. This requires being of sound body through wholesome eating and exercise."
Fitness Program – The fitness program’s goal is to help address the health issues experienced by indigenous communities by providing a structure to help members maintain the highest possible level of physical well being. Hupa Crossfit is a core component of this, facilitating healthy lifestyle related activities including: Basketball tournaments, stick tournaments, organized runs, and other fitness related activites
Food and Farm Program – This pathway in cooperation with the Native Suns’ Organic Farm stresses the importance of pure natural foods over cheap processed foods. An increasingly common problem which plagues Native American communities today are issues of food insecurity, hunger, and food related illness. Through this pathway the warrior institute supports a commitment to diverse menus with high quality healthy whole foods.
The cultural pathway stresses traditional skills and preservation of Hupa culture. The warrior institute’s language program partners with Hupa iL Tuq Language Center to help develop a better understanding of the philosophy and values ingrained in the xoji Hupa language. An additional element to the cultural pathway is the Arts program which stresses the rediscovery of traditional art forms. Together these programs help to preserve the traditions of: fire by friction, making shelters, flit knapping, leather making, medicines, bird language, tracking, and basketry.
River Program - Rivers have a special place in the world view and cultural identity of the Hupa people. The goal of the river program is to help develop the skills and ancient wisdom that comes from the waterways. Modern and traditional skills are the hallmark of the river program which seeks to encourage young paddlers to become competent anglers, traditional paddlers, river scientists, river restorationists, and amazing river guides.
“A centerpiece of our River Program is our RiverWays curriculum that focuses on river boating trips and skills featuring traditional dugout canoes and state-of-the-art whitewater rafts. For many youth, coming of age can be a difficult time to test boundaries and seek thrills, which in the context of modern cultural dysfunction often leads to dangerous and self-destructive behaviors, drugs, and alcohol. The excitement and challenge of rafting difficult whitewater rapids provides a safe and healthy way to seek thrill and prove oneself.
In addition, navigating the river requires teamwork and provides a bonding experience that brings people together and inspires youth to participate in other Warrior Institute programs. All of this comes together in a crowning jewel when we do our multi-day self-supported rafting trips, which provides a powerful mobile classroom and provides memories that last lifetime.” -Warrior Institute River Program
Students of the river program also create a strong link from the past to the future by helping to guide and facilitate multi-generational rafting trips. In a recent interview Joe Marshall, executive director of the warrior institute, tells us that creating the bridge between tribal elders all the way through young children of the tribe is a critical goal for the river program. The training that the youth involved in the river program receive culminates in multi day trips with tribal members of all ages where elementary school children can paddle side by side with tribal elders.
These trips allow the elders to pass on their knowledge to new generations, fish, enjoy quality farm fresh food from the food program, and breakdown barriers between generations. Unplugging is also an important aspect to this experience so cell phones and distracting technology is left behind in favor of the raw experience of California’s north coast rivers.
The Goal of the Institute
One of the goals of the river program is a hope that the warrior institute will help unite the indigenous communities of the north coast through rafting competitions, improving boating skills, and getting back to the traditional ways of river navigation. There has been a shift in recent decades away from the traditional ceremonies of dugout canoe construction and navigation. When the tribal elders sought out paddlers from a new generation to carry on the traditions of river skills that are so sacred and ingrained in the north coast, the warrior institute stepped up to help fill the gap in these skills in the north coast tribes.
The warrior institute's core belief is that "...our ancestors were as healthy as any people in the history of the planet, with practices that included pure, natural foods and daily training of the finer physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of life. Everyone had a purpose and belonged to a family, and to their Tribe. Our people walked and lived in nature everyday, were connected to the spirit, and understood the importance of balance, reciprocation, and renewal. This lifestyle contributed towards self-sufficiency, longevity, fulfillment, and helped sustain a healthy environment."
The program has excelled through a combination of private donations and public grants, but there is still work to be done. Some of the future goals are to help the program spread to neighboring Native American communities and to build a wider spirit of community among California’s north coast tribes.
We would like to thank Joseph Marshall the Warrior Institute's executive director and Dr. Joshua Strange, The Institute's river program manager, for sharing this awesome program with us and for providing photos. Please help support out friends at the warrior institute by following them on social media. If you are interested in supporting our friends at the warrior institute even further please swing by their donations page.