When I first started my work in First Nations communities eight years ago, I noticed a lot of people excitedly talking about 'pulling' during the summertime. I soon discovered that pulling was the action of paddling a dugout canoe, an activity that has roots in Coast Salish cultures since time immemorial. It is easy to identify the youth canoe pullers when I see them; they walk tall, and carry a grace and quiet strength that is impossible to miss. Canoe races happen up and down coastal communities throughout the summertime, and offer opportunity for connection and family time. Last weekend I was thrilled to attend the races at Snaw Naw As First Nation. As I drove into the community, I saw trucks loaded with canoes of varying lengths, some 55 feet long, secured to vehicle roofs. There were tents, and chairs and people EVERYWHERE.
As I watched the day’s events unfold, I was moved by the community I was witnessing. Older teens helping younger children getting their canoes into the water. Grandmas and Aunties excitedly cheering on their grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. Small children playing at the water’s edge, splashing and giggling together. Relations connecting and playfully teasing each other. The love and connection was palpable. The gathering got me thinking about Culturally Committed Mentor, Beau Wagner. Beau is a traditional dugout canoe carver, and is passionate about ensuring that those who wish to paddle have the opportunity. Beau has donated dozens of his hand carved canoes to families in the region, and his kind heart ensures that individuals have the necessary equipment to participate in this way of life. When I asked Beau why he felt compelled to gift in such a generous way, he shared:
"Canoes were an essential part of life for the Coast Salish. While carving a canoe on the beach, you could look up and see many other canoes being carved by others at the same time. These canoes were used to hunt and fish in the nearby waters, or travel to nearby islands to forage for berries, plants and medicines. Larger canoes were used as ferries to connect the different villages. These canoes brought our people closer together for potlatches, to share songs and teachings, and many other ceremonies. To stay connected to this way of life is healing; it brings balance and echoes the teachings of our Ancestors. When I gift a canoe, it is out of great gratitude to families who show immense strength in our culture. To compete in the local races strengthens families and relationships with ourselves and the world around us."
It is such a privilege to witness culture actively practiced in our region. I raise my hands to the Nation of Snaw Naw As for generously inviting the residents of Lantzville to share in this special time with you -- huy steep q'u. Canoe races will be continuing in Coastal Nations across over the coming weekends. I encourage you to seek information on local races, and attend if you can!