The Tribal Journeys, although long and sometimes tiring, is life-changing, says Nigel Lawrence.
Lawrence, the skipper and secretary for the Suquamish First Nation in Washington, said he has participated in almost every Tribal Journeys since 1989.
“It’s something that I keep coming back for every year. The way I see it, this is our church, this is our temple, this is our holy ground being in the canoe; being in the canoe is our prayer, it’s our culture,” Lawrence said.
Tribal Journeys is an annual trip which sees dozens of canoes carrying hundreds of First Nations people.
This year, the journey started in Washington State and will end in Campbell River where the hosts, the We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum nations, are located.
Lawrence called the waters the “highway of our ancestors,” adding that they are almost reenacting what their ancestors did when visiting neighbouring First Nation communities.
“This is a nice way of honouring our ancestors; a nice way of teaching our young ones about all of this,” he said.
Leonard Forsman, the Suquamish First Nation chairman, said every year, more and more people are recognizing Tribal Journeys.
“It seems like more people knew what was going on because they asked, ‘Are you with the Tribal Journeys?’ or we say this is Tribal Journeys, and they go, ‘Oh, yeah.’ They’re getting more accustomed to this,” Forsman said.
The paddlers landed at the Qualicum First Nation campground on Tuesday to the applause of spectators and campers. One person from each canoe introduced their canoe family and asked Qualicum First Nation Chief Michael Recalma if they would be allowed to disembark. Recalma would welcome each canoe family to the Qualicum First Nation land.
Carrie Reid, a volunteer for Tribal Journeys at the Qualicum First Nation, said they are grateful to have all the First Nations people here.
“It’s full of all these people who just love life and they embrace this cultural clean and sober lifestyle. It’s pretty amazing,” Reid said.
The waters coming into Qualicum were smooth on Tuesday , but that wasn’t the case for many paddlers coming into Nanoose First Nation on Monday. Only a handful of canoes were able to successfully paddle into the Snaw-Naw-As First Nation community due to high winds and rough seas. Two canoes filled up with water and had to be rescued by the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue, the Nanaimo Port Authority and the RCMP.