Posted by: The ocean update | April 9, 2015

Aalto University helps Native Americans relocate after whales warn of impending tsunami (Washington state, USA)

La-Push-WashingtonApril 9th, 2015. A rare Native American tribe from the Pacific Northwest says whales have informed them that a natural disaster will soon wipe out their reservation in Washington State. They have started a Move to Higher Ground project to move their community to a new location. By a series of coincidences, Finland’s Aalto University was selected by the tribe’s council to draw up the building plans.

Finland’s Aalto University is helping a rare North American indigenous people design a new hometown that is out of harm’s way, in a cooperative effort with a backstory as unlikely as any that could be imagined.

The Quileute tribe of La Push, Washington holds a ritual each year, where every woman, man and child in the reservation summons local whales, dolphins, sharks, seals and other marine species to the community’s beach by playing drums. The tribe’s chief then wades among the animals and interprets the sounds they make.

In 2014, tribal leaders said they received information from the Pacific Ocean whales that a tsunami would soon hit their community. La Push is located at the intersection of three tectonic plates, and is prone to earthquakes of a 9-point magnitude.

The tribe immediately started to make plans to move their community to higher ground. It applied for and received money from both the State of Washington and the federal government to fund the relocation.

Friend of a friend of a friend

Aalto University became involved in the project after a Finn working at the Microsoft office in Seattle  knew the person handling the business affairs of the tribe and heard of their situation. This Finn also knew the Associate Professor of the Aalto University School of Architecture, Trev Harris, and recommended the tribe approach Harris’ team.

The tribe chose the Aalto University group to plan a new community for them that would include 50 new housing units and a new school building. Harris and his team returned from their first visit to La Push in March. He tells how the tribe hired his group to complete the task.

“On the last day there was a meeting of the tribal council. When it was over, the chief stood and said ‘You’re all hired’”, Harris says.

He says it wasn’t money alone that won his team from Finland the job.

“They were completely fed up with the business world seething around them. As soon as news of the government funding went public, all kinds of construction firms came peddling their wares. The chief said to me, that your team’s way of dealing with things shows us much more respect than what we are accustomed to.”

The Aalto University plan intends to take advantage of local woodworking skills and build the new Higher Ground community from Canadian redwood, in an effort to revive the indigenous building tradition.

“According to the tribe, the operation must be completed by 2017, before the tsunami arrives,” says Harris.

Indigenous tribe goes back 7,000 years

The Quileute are a Native American people from the western state of Washington in the USA. Their population currently numbers approximately 2,000. After signing the Quinault Treaty in 1855, the Quileute people settled onto the Quileute Indian Reservation, located near the southwest corner of Clallam County of Washington, at the mouth of the Quillayute River on the Pacific coast. The hub of the reservation is the community of La Push.

The Quileute name may already be familiar to many fans of vampire stories, because the best-selling Twilight saga features fictional shape-shifting members of the Quileute tribe that live in and around the Forks, Washington area. The tribe claims that its history in North America goes back 7,000 years.

Like many native peoples on Northwest Coast, the Quileute once relied on fishing from local rivers and the Pacific Ocean for food. The Quileute and the Makah tribes were also once great whalers.

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