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Canoe Life


This week's #teachingstuesday is a guest post from Mother/Daughter duo, Brennan and Tiana MacDonald of Cowichan. I extend my deep gratitude to you for sharing your teachings and experiences with us.

“Go to the water and it will help you. Wash away what has been weighing you down.” Water has always been a special medicine for me, for as long as I can remember. From time spent on the river fishing with my late uncle, the cold water baths up in the mountain creek to take care of my spirit, to canoe pulling down Kil-pah-las, I have a treasured relationship with water.

My family returned to our homelands in Cowichan when I was 16 years old. Learning about our culture and getting to know our family and community was and continues to be so important to me. A part of my learning was time spent on the canoe. Being on the water and in a dugout canoe was life-giving for me - bringing together the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual parts of my being. The connection to the spirit of the canoe, the energy of the water is so powerful.

The teachings that go with canoe paddling are purposeful and help you to connect and paddle as one with your crew, Nuutsumaat. The teachings also remind us that the canoe is alive and has a spirit that we need to take care of, just as we take care of our own spirit.

We know that the canoe can feel heavy if we haven’t taken the time to take care of our feelings before we get on it. But when we bring our uy shqwaluwun, good feelings, the canoe can feel as light as a feather, gliding through the water with each stroke.

A few months ago, my 15 year-old daughter had her first time out on the canoe. Since that day, my heart has been overflowing with love and joy, knowing the powerful medicine she would receive from being out on the water.

“Being part of a canoe family has been such a great experience. At first I wasn’t sure if it was something that I would enjoy doing, but my first time going out, they were very welcoming and it made me feel good to be there. The first time going out on the water in the canoe was not easy, but the more I went out the easier it got. It’s just such a wonderful experience to be part of a canoe family and to be paddling every day. I have learned that each canoe has a spirit and you should always have good feelings and good intentions when you go out on the canoe. I learned that when you paddle with a group, you paddle as one. After practice each day, we bring the canoe in and we all sit in a circle and the skipper gives us teachings and his knowledge. He tells us what we are doing well and where we can improve. Sometimes he asks each of us to speak about what canoe means to us and how it makes us feel to go out on the water each day. We train together, we run together, we eat together, we celebrate together, and we stand together when there are challenges. What I really enjoy is travelling to races, we travel to together, and we get to be by the water, share meals, laughs, and stories. It is rewarding because when we raced, we placed third and it felt so good because we did it together.”

~ Tiana MacDonald, 15 years old, Cowichan


After canoe practice one night following that race, Tiana asked to talk to me. She told me that she wanted to thank me for introducing her to canoe paddling and for supporting her by bringing her to practice every day and by cheering her on and encouraging her. She expressed her appreciation and shared how much she is enjoying canoe life.

She then gave me a $10 bill.

This was her winnings she earned paddling with the ladies 11-man at the races over the previous weekend. She knows that the first winnings needed to be given away.

The teachings that come from being on the water and in the canoe are life lessons. The importance of taking care of ourselves, how to work together with others, how to connect and take care of the spirit in the living things around us and the spirit of reciprocity.

I want to thank the Cowichan Queen and Flaming Star Canoe Families who welcomed me when I was young and taught me many lessons that I now share with my children. The Warpath Canoe Family has also welcomed us, and has given us the greatest gifts of connection and belonging. They have created the safe space for our daughter to learn about herself, what is important to her and deepened her values of commitment and family. For all of the teachers who have shared what they carry, I raise my hands in gratitude and humbly pay forward what has been shared.

Huy tseep q’u siem ni siyeyah. Huy tseep q’u


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