Photo: The canoe reminds us that we are all one

(Credit: Kris Krüg)

By Anu Rao, Senior Specialist, Marine Planning & Jodi Stark, Public Engagement Specialist

A giggling toddler runs into a young woman's loving embrace. Behind them, songs echo to a booming rhythm held on a solid log. Elders dance onto the field, leading their young relatives. The fog rolls in off the ocean and I am happy for the opportunity to join the Eagle Dance to warm up.

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I wonder what it would be like to be surrounded by extended family, bound together in traditions defined by the land, waters and wildlife around us. Then I realize how welcome I have been made to feel on the shores of aptly named Bella Bella for the Tribal Journeys canoe gathering.

Artist Roy Henry Vickers reminds us that bringing back the ocean-going canoe tradition restores connections to ancestors, the ocean and a collective sense of stewardship. When you're paddling out at sea, you are literally immersed in the dynamics of the ocean. To begin, a tree only grows large enough to become a seaworthy canoe if its soil is fed by the carcasses of salmon that have journeyed to their spawning grounds. So reviving the use of the traditional canoe is intricately linked to both cultural and ecological restoration.

"We are doing this for everybody," explains Olympian Waneek Horn-Miller during a suppertime speech. "We all need clean air; we all need clean water; we all need clean food."

As darkness falls, all participants are invited forward to join hands and bring the evening to a close. I have never been in a circle this large, stretching around a soccer field. It warms me to know that our many Nations can come together like this. We are tied to each other and to what is around us.

We leave the community in song — youth heading home from the Tribal Journeys gathering lead a jam on the ferry, strengthening our union and delighting BC Ferries staff and passengers.

Thanks to the role models who initiated Tribal Journeys and the thousands of beautiful people who made it happen, I am sure we are destined to continue to make positive change. Through cooperation in such initiatives we can develop lasting, respectful relationships that will help us pull together as stewards of our oceans.

July 24, 2014

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