The Mighty Quapaw Apprenticeship Program has been featured in an article about Voyageur Canoes by Conor Mihell of Canoe and Kayak Magazine.
“Canoeing for me has always been about escaping the crowds,” he writes, “cruising alone across a misty lake or working with a partner to negotiate a boiling whitewater river. Big canoes, however, the curious 20-foot-plus behemoths powered by a half-dozen or more paddlers, are the exact opposite. Big canoes require a crowd.” He writes that these Voyageur style canoes have a special power that bonds the paddlers inside of them. Many of you have felt that in one of our four big canoes on the Mississippi River. You may have been captained by one of our Mighty Quapaw Apprentices, who have seen a combined thousand plus miles on the Lower Mississippi.
Mihell goes on to write:
“Mississippi River outfitter John Ruskey has been battling nature-deficit disorder with trips in six- to 14-person homemade wood-strip and dugout canoes for impoverished Deep South kids since 1998. Ruskey’s ‘Mighty Quapaws’ after-school apprenticeship program gets youngsters ‘away from the crowded house, and breaks the never-ending cycle of poverty,’ says Ruskey, the owner of Clarksdale, Mississippi’s Quapaw Canoe Company.”
For Ruskey, paddling a big canoe is ‘a true democratic experience.’ It enforces the need for consensus, compromise, self- and group awareness, and sets the stage for what he calls ‘spiritual experiences.’ Ruskey remembers one apprentice laying down on a sandbar and marveling at the size of the sky. Regardless of demographics, he insists that there’s a ‘connection that every paddler makes when they step into the canoe and enter that special place that exists on the water.'”
What he didn’t mention is that the Mighty Quapaws were the ones who built the Voyageur canoes that they captain, adding another degree of stewardship and involvement in the program.
Be sure to check out the whole article to read about the other organizations who have are using big canoes to make big changes in young people’s lives: Voyages of Rediscovery, Pulling Together.