After a nearly 20 year absence from the annual traditional canoe gathering of the Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth, and Coast Salish First Nations, the people of the Pacheedaht First Nation are preparing to rejoin the celebration.
The traditional journey, which this year will take place between July 24 and 28, centres on canoe families paddling from nation to nation en route to a final host destination where they participate in a potlatch celebration.
This year that final celebration will be Lummi first nation, near Bellingham, Wash.
On Saturday, the Pacheedaht gathered for a canoe blessing and launch ceremony where tribal elder Jimmy Chester led a ceremony attended by about 100 members of the First Nation as well as Chief Jeff Jones, “knowledge keepers,” and invited guests.
“This is a very important day for us and marks the return to our traditions,” Jones said.
“It’s a journey of more than 300 kilometres and this year we’ll be taking it very easy, downsizing a bit to make it easier. But this is something that we’ll be doing every year.”
The purpose of the Tribal Journey is to revitalize old teachings, share stories and traditions, and offer new learning between local elders and 12 local youths participating in this project.
With six months of Tribal Journeys preparations already underway, activities have includedworkshops on drum-making, cedar paddle making, cedar harvesting and weaving, canoe safety, teachings, and paddle practice.
The University of Victoria, School of Child and Youth Care assistant professor Dr. Sarah Wright Cardinal, is a Cree educator who lives in Sooke and is co-lead on the project.
“Indigenous resurgence is about Indigenous families, communities, and nations reclaiming their teachings and practices. In this project, we are working with youth, knowledge keepers, and Elders to support community wellness and to bridge this wellness with university learning,” she said.
Ceanna Jones is excited about the journey ahead. She’s in training for the tribal trek.
“It’s wonderful for me to be able to come back here and learn about our culture and traditions,” she said.
Funding for the project came as a result of a call to action resulting from the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which included the establishment of a national research program to advance the understanding of reconciliation.
In 2018, 115 Indigenous organizations and researchers were awarded SSHRCC grants to organize engagement activities and develop position papers to inform a national agenda aimed at strengthening Indigenous research capacity and the role of universities in that research.
Pacheedaht Nation and the University of Victoria’s Language, land, and healing: Youth stories of preparing for Tribal Journeys is one of these projects, which received a $50,000 grant.
“This sort of activity is incredibly important to the Pacheedaht and to all of the First Nations involved. It’s a way of rediscovering who we are as a people,” said Cardinal.
Revitalizing old teachings, sharing stories and traditions, offer new learning between local Elders and twelve local youths participating in this project. The three participating nations are known as ‘the canoe people’ who first made these journeys many years ago.