The least talked about cultural event that I know of takes place every summer in the month of July and culminating at months end on the traditional shoreline of some First Nation on the West Coast. The event has come to be known a Tribal Journey.
I first came to the west coast because I love the ocean. That was forty years ago. I was only 17 at the time and I hitchhiked all the way from Tobique First Nations in New Brunswick. I traveled to Victoria and dipped my feet in the Pacific Ocean and came right back to Vancouver to participate in the Red Power movement.
In 1972 there was no Tribal Journey. So what is it? Why is it important to me?
Those who know about the journey are laughing at me right now. Well, each summer the west coast First Nations participate in a canoe festival of sorts. Dugout carved canoes made of huge cedar logs have a long history here. The ocean going canoe is a vessel for food gathering and was sometimes used for war. They were also the only means of traveling from one part of the coast to the other.
Most canoes are carved from a giant tree. Others are made from cedar slats. This is because there are fewer large enough trees to carve a canoe. The practice also suffered a setback when the First Nations were forbidden to make ceremonial art. A water sport company known as Clipper Canoes recently made a mold and they are now constructing these vessels from fiberglass and Kevlar. This has helped those nations that have neither the access to tree’s and canoe builders.
Back in the day these canoes were mostly used as the vessel of the sea. They were practical and essential tools of survival. Today they are mostly symbolic.
NALA Winds arrive in Squaxin. Skippers Wally and James are standing
The annual summer journey started rather modestly in 1986 when a young Heiltsuk man and his wife decided that as a project they would have a canoe carved and paddle to EXPO 86 held in Vancouver BC. Frank Brown (Bella Bella BC) and Kathy Brown (Ahousat) became enthralled at the experience of being on the ocean with an ancient vessel. They decided then that hosting a canoe journey would be an amazing experience. At about the same time another person in the state of Washington was brewing something up.
In 1989 Seattle had their EXPO and a gentleman from Quinault Nation, Emmett Oliver, organized the Paddle to Seattle. Frank and Kathy seized the moment and approached Mr. Oliver to paddle to Bella Bella for what was to become Qatuwas, a festival that was the seed that led to what is today the largest gathering of its kind in the world.
NALA WINDS: Name of the Bella Bella Canoe Family
The story of Tribal journey is one I have always wanted to capture for Canadian television audiences. Tonight and for the next six weeks I am happy to bring you the result of what our team has put together, the story of the Canadian and international canoe families who hold sacred, their connections to water in this remarkable story of renaissance and cultural renewal.