Patricia Conway: Pulling for the Past and Present

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She's helped pull canoes but this year Patricia Conway, '16, is on a different kind of journey.

Patricia Conway, '16 History.The past is a big part of Patricia Conway’s present. The UW Tacoma alumna and current graduate student majored in history. “I’m interested in how the past impacts us today,” said Conway. 

Conway graduated in 2016 and took a year off from school before starting work on a master of arts in interdisciplinary studies this past fall. Conway is creating an ethnography of Coast Salish peoples for her thesis. “My guiding topic is the social and natural relationships of the Coast Salish communities,” she said.

Conway is an enrolled member of the Puyallup Tribe of Nations. The Puyallup are hosting this year’s Canoe Journey, Power Paddle to Puyallup. The annual event brings together Indigenous communities from across the Pacific Northwest and around the world.

The Canoe Journey is a physically demanding experience. “Pullers” propel massive wooden canoes across vast distances in all manner of conditions from extreme heat to driving rain. “If you put yourself in a prayerful state and you put yourself in unison with your team and with the water then it goes a lot smoother than if you’re thinking ‘my arms hurt or this is painful,’” said Conway.

“I found the experience is good for strengthening your whole health, your spiritual, mental, physical, emotional and intellectual being.” —Patricia Conway

Conway has helped pull canoes but she’s also participated in shore-side activities. At each landing, canoe families are welcomed with singing, dancing and food. “We do all of these things to honor our ancestors and to teach our young people, the next generation, to be proud of who we are and where we come from,” said Conway.

This year’s journey will be slightly different for Conway. She’ll still play an active role but she’ll also be researching. Conway is working with the Puyallup to document the preparation and lived experience of those engaged with the journey as part of her ethnography. “I’ll be engaged in participant observation, in taking field notes and then doing interviews,” she said.

Conway is a student of history. However, traditional definitions of that word don’t fit in this instance. For Conway, history isn’t just the study of the past. “When I’m on a canoe I think ‘this is the way my ancestors would have traveled,’” she said. “This is a blessing for me to be able not only to carry on these traditions but also to be in the mindset of this is how they carried themselves, this is how they endured.”

Written by: 
Eric Wilson-Edge / July 25, 2018
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or