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Posted April 8, 2003 

Therapy Under Sail
Catherine Freer Wilderness Therapy Expeditions

Visit to Haida Gwaii, British Columbia
On 3/26/03 by Will Twombly

Catherine FreerStarting two summers ago the Catherine Freer Wilderness Therapy Expeditions (CFWTE) began collaborating with the Gray’s Harbor Historical Seaport Authority (GHHSA) to organize therapeutic tall ship expeditions for teenagers. Twice we have offered a “Voyage of Self-Discovery”, sailing around Vancouver Island on a reproduction of the historic Lady Washington, with the third voyage scheduled to start July 20th, 2003.

These voyages create unique therapeutic contexts within which youth actively learn to sail a tall ship, participate in group and individual therapy and learn about history, marine ecology and culture. Interestingly, the Voyage of Self-Discovery has generated it’s own momentum. We are now discussing ways to use the Lady Washington to address a historic conflict that occurred between early American explorers and indigenous people on the Northwest Coast in order to facilitate community healing and reconciliation.

People react quite differently to the image of a tall ship depending on their cultural background, but generally people’s reactions are quite emotional. The original Lady Washington was the first American ship to land on the northwest coast, arriving from Boston back in 1789, accompanied by the Columbia Rediviva. The primary objectives for sailing to the northwest were to profit from the fur trade and to establish a U.S. presence on the west coast. Conflicts occurred as the sailors traded and interacted with indigenous people, and though they happened over two hundred years ago, the negative repercussions still have an influence today. One of the most notable conflicts occurred in Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands.

Last August a Haida man sent an e-mail suggesting a coordinated effort to sail the Lady Washington to Haida Gwaii to constructively address conflicts that occurred in 1789 through 1792 between the Haida people and the Lady Washington. Discussions are currently underway to determine if and how such a process could be organized. If the Haida Nation and the collaborating organizations deem it to be appropriate and realistic, we may engage in a powerful process to address healing an historic conflict. This would be an amazing opportunity that was never envisioned when the collaboration between CFWTE and GHHSA first took shape.

One conclusion that emerged from my visit and discussions with the Haida Nation is that we should not rush into an historic healing process this summer. Rather, we should plan for something to happen in the summer of 2004, in order to allow more time and thought for this process so that the addressing of historic wounds can be done in a good way.

It is interesting, especially in light of current events, to reflect on how conflict that occurred over two hundred years ago continues to impact people today. The notion of slowing down a process of healing stands in stark contrast to the speed by which conflict often escalates. The idea of using the Voyage of Self-Discovery as a mechanism to facilitate historic reconciliation testifies to the power and benefits of organizational collaboration and exemplifies how all of our efforts in the field of adventure therapy can influence people far beyond the scope of those we typically identify as our clients. It has been my experience that collaborations can strengthen organizations and allow for creative and meaningful programming to develop and grow, and I encourage people to actively explore ways that collaborations can enhance the organizations and the programs they represent.

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