Kwumut Lelum child and family services is an agency on Vancouver island who provide an important social service for aboriginal youth who need it. They hire Elders for counselling on cultural matters. Each year for the last 4 years the management has sent a team of paddlers to Tribal Journey. This week we feature their story.
Willie Seymour is one of the Elders who has traveled with the Kwumut Lelum Canoe family. We first met Willie at a skippers meeting held in Chemainus, April 2012, B.C. where he gave a rousing pep talk to the people in attendance."the canoe must be respected, respect the paddle. They both come from the cedar tree".
Many of the children with the Kwumut Lelum canoe come from either broken homes or are orphaned. They have been in care and often need the kind of guidance that people like Willie can offer. To prepare for the long journey they practice paddling, learn about personal behaviours and how to work cooperatively as a team. Many life skills are attached to their journey and for some life lessons become the best part of the journey.
Each canoe family that travels on the annual paddle needs a support system. Along with the elders and the cultural factors that pertain to their involvement a support boat is hired to accompany the canoes ( this year they had two canoes). That boat belongs to Arnie Robinson, originally from Ahousat, B.C. According to Arnie, the Elder is of critical importance to the journey and that almost every canoe has their own.
|Freda and Arnie Robinson with Arvid Charlie|
"Willie plays a key role, not just for the kids but for the rest of us too. Everyday he teaches us new words in the language. He will sing songs and teaches the songs to the kids and it becomes a very rewarding and enjoyable experience." A retired fisherman Arnie owns the perfect rig, a 40 foot boat formerly used for commercial fishing. "We travel with them each day and make sure they take breaks and have some element of safety. It's a gruelling journey?"
We watched the kids paddle everyday and you could see the joy in their smiles and hear the laughter in their voices. One day when the crew was aboard the support boat our director Marianne Jones decided to make their lunch. After a few hours paddling anybody would be hungry. She described the youth as really appreciative of having a change of cooks. They joked and chided one another that this is how it should always be.
Everyday for two weeks the paddlers would work for 8-10 hours with only one meal break. When they landed on traditional shorelines, almost each night, they would engage in cultural protocol. First of all it was ritual to ask permission to come ashore. After landings, then the host First Nation would have a feast after which they would share songs and dance. Sometimes they would go for hours. That was one of the things about Tribal Journey that amazed me the most. The songs.
Back in Nanaimo the kids practiced and practiced their singing and dancing. But the Maestro who taught them the songs was none other than Willie Seymour. Now you have to understand that Willie was raised in traditional matters. He was brought up as a Speaker in the Traditional feast house. There Are no microphones or loud speakers. He must bellow to be heard. During his training he would climb to high points and speak as loud as he could raising his voice each time until he could be heard echoing in the valley below. This is also how he learned to sing.
|Cultural workout in Nanaimo|
The exchange of songs and dances is very special here. For many of the participants it is the first time they have heard these songs. Yet for others they were raised with the music as an integral aspect of their lives, some songs that predate the arrival of Europeans and others composed by contemporaries. Only people familiar with west coast culture will have heard the songs. I have lived here for twenty years and I had only heard a fraction of the songs I heard duringTribal Journey. I was floored.
Everyone insisted that I had to hear the Ahousat singers. I had a preview when I heard a few in Chemainus. I had another when I heard them again during the landings at Solo Point. They lived up to their billing. But the best was yet to come. When I sat in the audience and listened to the singers of the United Cowichan Tribes, mostly from Duncan B.C. at Squaxin, I was indeed moved to tears at the depth, the majesty and the inner peace their singing created in me. I could swear I was in ancient times momentarily lifted to a sacred place. This was a truly spiritual experience for me. Nirvana.
Buts that's not all. There was not one piece of music I did not like. William Wasden was there to sing with Frank Nelson's family. I am very familiar with his singing. I have taken to calling him the Pavarotti of the west coast. And there are many others.
For anyone not familiar with Tribal Journey, put it on your bucket list. I am telling you that you will never regret it. Next year Tribal Journey is headed to Bella Bella for Qatawas 2014. Cultural protocols are scheduled from July 13-19, 2014. Be sure to make your plans early. Bella Bella is not as advisable as Olympia Wa, where the canoes landed in 2012. To get there requires booking your ferry ride on BC ferries, or flying the with Pacific Coastal, unless you have your own boat. Accommodations will surely be challenging. But our friends, NALA winds are pretty psyched to be hosting.
Bella Bella is located in the pristine Great Bear coastal region. It's is one of the most beautiful locations on earth. Kwumut Lelum is going. Are you?