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A father teaches his son that if it can be done, it will be done

Courtesy of the Oliver family
Emmett Sampson Oliver, who is credited with reviving the art of making traditional native canoes in the Northwest.


This story originally aired on February 23, 2019.   

In 1989, Washington marked 100 years as an official state. Leading up to the milestone, state leaders held meetings about what the celebration should look like.

Emmett Sampson Oliver, a member of the Quinault Indian Nation, attended one of the planning sessions. At the end of the meeting, his son Marvin Oliver recalls, Emmett stood up and asked everyone in the room: "Wait a minute, what are you doing for indians?"

Marvin, a Seattle-based artist, says his dad called for their inclusion: "You're on their land."

Realizing this omission, elected officials told Emmett Oliver that if he came up with a good idea for including indigenous communities, then the state would fund it.

Emmett Oliver decided to focus on canoes. Specifically, reviving the art of making traditional dugout canoes — a skill he knew nothing about. However, he did know the few craftsman who still held the knowledge and the traditions that went with turning enormous cedar logs into buoyant modes of transportation on the water.

In this story, Marvin Oliver will talks about how his father's idea to revitalize canoe building led to the momentous event that became known as the Paddle To Seattle.

Today, Marvin Oliver is a master printmaker and sculptor who says that his father's can-do spirit is one of the reasons why his own projects are so successful.

"I'll never say never," Marvin Oliver said, with a laugh. "When my dad said it can be done, it will be done —no joke!"




Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.