I started training with the skxwxú7mesh kuxu7h siyaya (Squamish Canoe Family) a few months ago.
We would practise three days a week with the goal to come together as a family and to build our strength and stamina to make the paddle up to the Bella Bella Tribal Canoe Journey. This journey would be a big celebration as Tribal Journeys started in 1993 up in Bella Bella and have been going strong ever since as one of the largest cultural event on the northwest coast.
When I first arrived for practice one evening in the spring, I was introduced to the Squamish Kuxu7h (canoe). I was told that he was a male and that his sister the Keulili was down south. She’s a canoe too.
On our first paddle on the Burrard Inlet, we paddled from the Mosquito Creek marina into the harbour. Our bow man Uncle Buck (Alroy Baker) said a prayer in the skxwxú7mesh kuxu7h (Squamish) language and we paddled our way towards the Lions Gate Bridge. Some of the paddlers said a prayer on behalf of loved ones, while others just laughed and joked. I knew I was hooked. This was my new canoe family.
On July 1, we headed off by ferry with Kuxu7h being towed towards Campbell River where we would have our official launch of tribal journeys and join the other canoe families throughout the U.S. and southern Canada.
On July 2 we launched Kuxu7h and paddled across the channel to meet the 20 other canoes that were camping at Cape Mudge. Once out of the safety of the harbour, Kuxu7h hit the current and our canoe swung several feet to the left. This was definitely new waters for me and different from the more predictable Sechelt and Jervis Inlet waters that I am accustomed to kayaking on.
As we paddled, I looked to the north and south for whales. Nothing yet, so I paddled and joined in on the singing of our songs.
On July 3, we launched Kuxu7h and left Campbell River and headed towards Browns Bay and then to Sayward Island. The wind was a bit sharp even for a July day and I was a little chilled, but we had spotted stalashen (killer whales) and I was thrilled.
When we arrived at our destination, the local Sayward residents had a salmon barbecue, a hot tub and showers — such a treat after a good paddle. Cousin Erika Vader and I were in Sayward heaven.
In the Johnston Strait, weather (wind), currents and tides are the three big chiefs that you dare not ignore. Our skipper decided to pull our canoe out of the water and trailer to Alert Bay. It proved to be a very wise decision as the winds picked up that day causing two canoes to capsize.
On our second night in Alert Bay, we had a seafood feast in potlatch style — halibut, salmon, clams, ooligans, ooligan grease and herring eggs. Herring eggs, a northwest coast delicacy, is by far a true gift and a treat of all treats — more than words can express.
Protocol in the longhouse ended at 3:30 a.m. and our canoe family would be up a mere two hours later to break camp and launch Kuxu7h. I was napping during the day to get myself through the rich, but long cultural nights.
We paddled our way to Fort Renfrew where we were greeted by the community with a lunch and later that evening a dinner and protocol.
On the following night, we would be in Port Hardy potlatching again with the local community and fellow canoe families. Each community graciously and generously fed hundreds of people and paddlers.
The canoe journey would continue to Bella Bella and I would return by sail boat back to the Sunshine Coast to return to work. I look forward to the next journey.
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