Photo: Pulling together: The Tribal Journeys gathering in Bella Bella

Nations from Alaska, Oregon, Washington and all along the B.C. coast have arrived, and one by one, they request permission from the hosts, the Heiltsuk First Nation, to land in their territory just as their ancestors would have done. (Credit: Kris Krüg)

By: Anu Rao, Senior Specialist, marine planning

The fog lifted, the sun came out over the hills and 50 traditional canoes arrived in the small First Nations community of Bella Bella on B.C.'s central coast.

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We have come to Qatuwas — People Gathering Together, the annual Tribal Journeys canoe gathering of West Coast First Nations that is happening this year in the Heiltsuk community of Bella Bella. Tribal Journeys is a symbol of strength, unity and Indigenous Peoples' connections with the ocean and their culture. The paddlers, or pullers, train for months for this journey by traditional canoe on the routes their ancestors also travelled to gather to share culture, food and celebrations.

Squamish First Nation asking permission to land on Heiltsuk Territory

Squamish First Nation asking permission to land on Heiltsuk Territory.

For four years, the Heiltsuk Nation has been preparing to host this major international gathering. It was last held in Bella Bella in 1993, the inaugural year of the event. At that first event, few of the songs and little of the language that make up traditional protocol were known. Because of this event, many nations up and down the coast have since relearned and restored many of these traditions.

Tribal Journey paddlers are welcomed

Tribal Journey paddlers are welcomed.

One of the Haida leaders captured the essence of the event by saying, "This is all about pulling together, becoming more united not just as First Nations, but as people. We are fighting for our culture, for the ocean and for our right to fresh, clean, untainted water."

Youth and elder at Tribal Journeys

The event is about the connection between youth, elders and ancestors, connection with the ways of the sacred ocean, pride, healing, language and cultural restoration.

The celebrations, feasts, songs and dance will continue all week. We are grateful to be here to learn and share as we gather together.

All photographs were generously donated by National Geographic photographer Kris Krüg, skipper of the support boat for the Squamish First Nation, who travelled 600 nautical miles from Squamish to the Tribal Journeys gathering in Bella Bella.

July 15, 2014

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