WSU Vancouver offers summer English course on the Columbia River for the first time

VANCOUVER, Wash. – Who says summer school is a drag? For some Washington State University Vancouver students, their summer English literature course is an adventure.

Students in English 341 Native American Literature are taking a significant part of their lessons in a 15-person tribal canoe on the Columbia River. Chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation Tony Johnson will be at the helm for the course themed “Mni Wiconi, Water is Life.”

The centerpiece of the literature course is the novel “Solar Storms” by Linda Hogan. The story is set in the boundary waters between Minnesota and Ontario, and focuses the impact of the fur trade and massive hydropower projects, and the healing power of an all-woman canoe journey.

While they paddle, Johnson will teach the students about parallel impacts of the fur trade and dams on the Chinook and other Columbia River tribal nations. They will get an intimate introduction to the Columbia River ecosystems, and related cultural traditions and oral narratives of the Chinook and other Columbia River tribes. Students will leave with some understanding of the annual Pacific Northwest canoe journeys in the cultural revitalization work among the Chinook and other lower Columbia tribal nations.

The land-based part of English 341 is taught by Desiree Hellegers, associate professor of English. She is the recipient of a 2019 fellowship endowed by Lewis E. and Stella G. Buchanan, which provided seed money for the course. Hellegers developed the course in consultation with Lakota/Cheyenne activist/researcher Roben White, who is a member of WSU Vancouver’s Native American Community Advisory Board.

About WSU Vancouver

As one of six campuses of the Washington State University system, WSU Vancouver offers big-school resources in a small-school environment. The university provides affordable, high-quality baccalaureate- and graduate-level education to benefit the people and communities it serves. As the only four-year research university in Southwest Washington, WSU Vancouver helps drive economic growth through relationships with local businesses and industries, schools and nonprofit organizations. 

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NOTE TO INTERESTED MEMBERS OF THE MEDIA: English 341 will launch at 2:30 p.m. June 25, June 27 and July 2 (weather permitting) from Marine Park, SE Marine Park Way and Columbia Way. Class is over and the boat returns about 5:50 p.m.


Desiree Hellegers, Associate Professor of English, 503-927-1709 (cell),

Brenda Alling, Office of Marketing and Communications, 360-546-9601,

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