Two white fiberglass canoes made in the Nuu-chah-nulth dugout style quietly slipped into the Somass River on the morning of June 17, to the cheers of crowds gathered on the riverside. The 36-foot canoes were commissioned by the NTC’s Usma Nuu-chah-nulth Family and Child Services program to help children and youth in care connect with their cultures in a hands-on way.
Tseshaht people welcomed Usma staff to Paper Mill Dam that morning to lead the blessing ceremony from their traditional territory.
The pair of canoes made their first public appearance at the NTC parking lot in August 2021. Back then, Linus Lucas of Usma told the people that the canoes would be used for child and youth in care, to allow them to participate in Canoe Journeys 2022 and to enrich their lives with Indigenous culture.
Unfortunately, there will be no Canoe Journeys 2022, thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But, as social distancing requirements have eased, there are other smaller gatherings planned over the summer, like events to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day on June 21.
Kelly Edgar, Usma’s director, said that the timing for the event was made in consultation with Tseshaht. The reason, she said, was to have the canoes ready to take part in the June 21 Wolf Tower Unveiling on National Indigenous Peoples Day.
“We hope to have staff, care givers, youth and maybe even elders paddle with us to the event,” said Edgar.
Tseshaht Chief Councillor Ken Watts and Aaron Angeli led a prayer chant as Leisa Hassall, prevention and family wellness worker at Usma, followed by three young people brushed the canoes with cedar boughs. Nearby, sockeye salmon splashed in the river while eagles sang overhead.
Tsheshaht Councilor Ed Ross directed the cleansing ceremony, making sure that the equipment and paddlers were brushed so that the canoes can begin their service to youth in a good way.
“This is a long time coming,” said Edgar.
Edgar added that the next steps for the canoes is to have them named and to be decorated with artwork. It is hoped that the canoes can be used this summer at Usma summer camps for small paddling trips. Eventually, the vision is to use them in future canoe journeys.
“We hope to be able to use them to paddle children in care home, in the future,” said Edgar.