A Gateway to Knowledge through Traditional Boat Building


Norine Holguin

5/15/20232 min read

man riding kayak on water taken at sunset
man riding kayak on water taken at sunset

In the wake of catastrophic wildfires and environmental crises, it has become increasingly evident that we must look to Indigenous knowledge and cultural revitalization for a sustainable future. The documentary series "Tending Nature" sheds light on the essential role of Indigenous voices in environmental thinking. One such example is the Ti'at Society, a group comprised of Tongva, Chumash, Acjachemen, and other tribal communities, actively working to revive traditional boat building as a means of ocean stewardship and ecological knowledge.

Preserving Indigenous Knowledge in Environmental Science

Incorporating Indigenous knowledge into the teaching of environmental science is crucial to understanding the delicate balance between humans and the environment. Communities like the Tongva, whose ancestors have lived in harmony with the local environment for thousands of years, possess invaluable wisdom in land management and stewardship. Recognizing and honoring the Indigenous presence in our surroundings is essential as we strive for a sustainable future.

Reviving the Tradition of the Ti'at

Catalina Island, also known as Pimu in the Tongva language, has a rich history as the traditional land of the Tongva and Tataviam peoples. The island's ecological diversity and marine life have been crucial to the Tongva's survival for millennia. They once traveled between the island and the mainland using boats called ti'ats, plank canoes that facilitated trade and resource sharing.

Revitalizing Maritime Traditions

The dream of reviving the ti'ats became a reality with the birth of Moomat ahiko, a ti'at meaning "breath of the ocean" in the Tongva language. Cindi Alvitre, an educator and culture bearer, led the Ti'at Society to bring this maritime tradition back to life. The society includes members from various tribal communities who work together to preserve these cultural practices.

Materials that Tell a Story

Building a ti'at involves the use of traditional materials that reflect the rich diversity of the California environment. Redwood planks, driftwood logs from northern California, are bound together with woven cordage made from plant fibers like dogbane and nettle. Asphaltum, a tar-like substance, acts as an adhesive and waterproof coating, while abalone inlay adds cultural significance to the vessels.

A Powerful Messenger for Climate Action

Moomat ahiko serves as more than just a vessel; it is a symbol of cultural identity and heritage, reconnecting communities with their past and fostering healing from the legacy of colonialism. Additionally, traditional boats can become powerful messengers for climate action and social justice, advocating for ocean stewardship and environmental protection.

Looking to the Future

As the Ti'at Society builds a miniature version of their boat for display at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the broader goal is to inspire future generations about the importance of Indigenous maritime traditions and environmental conservation. Through the revival of these traditional practices, the Tongva, Chumash, and Acjachemen communities are connecting with their ancestral roots and strengthening their ties to the environment.


The revival of traditional boat building by the Ti'at Society demonstrates the invaluable ecological knowledge and cultural heritage that Indigenous communities possess. As we face pressing environmental challenges, it is essential to learn from and support these communities in their efforts to protect our natural world. By embracing Indigenous wisdom, we can forge a more sustainable future that respects and celebrates the sacredness of water, life, and everything in between.


Laduzinsky, Paige. “Traditional Boat Building Helps Native Community Hone Ecological Knowledge.” Link TV, 5 Oct. 2020, www.linktv.org/shows/tending-nature/traditional-boat-building-helps-native-community-hone-ecological-knowledge.

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