In 2000, Marc Chavez founded Native Like Water (NLW) – an influential organization focused on broadening cultural conservation, travel, and Indigenous minded education. Surfing bonds the people of NLW and the coastal Indigenous community as a whole. Being in the ocean has the power to shape life's philosophy while being a path for native relationships to their ancestral past.
Power Of Coastal Healing
Surfing evokes a deep sense of spirituality. Native Like Water is on a mission to reclaim an Indigenous presence at the coast after disappearing for nearly three generations. Colonization and life on reservations has detrimentally affected native communities in America.
Years ago, Native Americans in Southern California were forced away from the coast to reservations in the desert and mountains. In returning to their ancestral coastlines, Indigenous communities are reigniting cultural and spiritual connection to the water.
With help from people at NLW, Indigenous youths who lack coastal access are shuttled to the coastline, enabling inclusivity and accessibility. Humans originate from water and are inextricably linked to the aquatic ecosystem. By reconnecting with the water, humans are able to reconnect with themselves. Connection to water heals a piece of the soul that has been longing to revive its relationship to the natural world and for many Indigenous nations, is a birthright.
Native Like Water’s ‘Surf Auntie’, Dina Gilio-Whitaker, highlighted the four R’s of an Indigenous worldview ingrained in the surfing lifestyle: relationship, reciprocity, respect, and responsibility. She expressed the importance of “understanding the world in terms of relationships, relationships between humans and the natural environment.” (Ohana Fest, 2022)
There is an ever present relationship between everything around us recognized within the Indigenous community. Reciprocity is not only from one human to another but is a mutual exchange between humans and the surrounding ecosystem. Humans must give to the environment in order to receive. Respect is an essential part of surfing and an Indigenous way of life. Through the surfer's eye, if you do not have respect for the ocean while catching waves, it could cost your life. Lastly, a native way of life recognizes that humans have a responsibility to respect other people, cultures, and the environment.
The organization expanded its reach to Hawaii and outside of the states into Mexico and Panama. They brought valuable curriculum and programs encouraging connection to the local environment, generational knowledge, and importance of mental and physical health. NLW uses food, adventure travel, surfing, and music as a way to rebalance the mind and body with others that join them while emphasizing Indigenous inclusive education programs. NLW programs that reach overseas include – Jamaica Cultural Exchange, Panama 6-Day Island and Jungle, Surf and Food as Medicine in Mexico, and so many more.
Chaves has been a force to indigenize education with his powerful organizations, foster a connection to the ocean, and reestablish Indigenous roots. Storytelling is a key element of native culture and with his effort, a space has been created to pass along ancestral knowledge to youths and adults. The programs and educational opportunities open doors to a mindful way of life that has been denied to people for too long.