On Saturday, 21 canoes will launch from Mackenzie Beach near Pacific Rim National Park on an eight-day journey to Port Alberni that is much more important than simple transportation.
The canoes are part of the 2011 Pulling Together Canoe Journey, representing police and other public service agencies, First Nations and youth from across the province.
Pulling Together is a physical, cultural and spiritual canoe journey that takes place every year on the west coast of British Columbia, usually on the south coast. Together, living within Aboriginal culture for the duration of the journey, all participants face the demands of a long and difficult canoe trip together. By the end of the journey there is a newfound understanding and friendship between participants.
“I think it highlights the way things have come full circle, that relationships can change,” planning chairman Boyd Pearson said. Pearson is an RCMP constable in Port Alberni, and a member of the Metis Nation from Batoche, Sask. He has participated in two other such events, and this year brought it to the Alberni Inlet.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada joined the journey in 2008, as the idea began expanding beyond simple law enforcement. For Jim Robson, the WCVI detachment supervisor, this is his first journey—and he is stoked.
“It’s important for youth and elders of the communities to see the officers as individuals, see what they stand for at this base level,” he said.
Fishing is fundamental to First Nations on the west coast, so it was a natural fit to include DFO officers on the journey, Robson said. “Salmon fishing is at the root of their culture and creation,” he said. “We’ve had a long relationship with First Nations and at times it’s been difficult.
“When we can sit down and talk about the root causes of issues and know each other, we often come to an understanding,” he said.
He has already seen some of that, after his canoe—Sto:mex Skwo:wech, or Sturgeon Warrior—participated in Aboriginal Days at Paper Mill Dam. Robson spent part of the day taking children for rides in the canoe in an area that has been known for its fisheries conflicts in the past.
“It was a pretty powerful day,” he said.
Pearson would also like to see new relationships develop between First Nations youth and elders and public service agencies, but his biggest reason for wanting Pulling Together to come to the Alberni Valley was to bring back the canoe culture to the community.
“The ultimate goal is for a successful journey this year but also to get canoes in the water locally,” he said. He would like to see canoes from this region participate in future Pulling Together events.
“I don’t confess this is going to solve all the problems of the world,” he said. “I look at it as a first step.”
To follow the canoe journey, go online to www.pullingtogether.ca.