Two brand-new canoes slipped into the water at Cultus Lake, carrying with them hopes of stronger ties between the RCMP and local Indigenous people.
The 24 foot long canoes, called West Wind and Wave Eater, were launched July 7.
Cst. Jaden Courtney, Urban Indigenous Liaison Officer for the Upper Fraser Valley RCMP, said the original idea was to obtain one larger boat, big enough to participate in a Pulling Together journey. Pulling Together journeys see Indigenous people and representatives of public service agencies like the RCMP working together, paddling canoes on trips that often take several days to complete.
In the process, prejudice and stereotypes on both sides are broken down.
“But after thinking about it and looking at the models that were available from (Abbotsford’s) Western Canoe and Kayak, I thought the smaller Clipper-model boats would be a good idea,” Courtney said. “The crews are eight people including six paddlers, and a smaller group is better for youth engagement and other activities we do with the Indigenous communities that we work with.”
Rather than bring a big boat out once or twice a year in the summer for Pulling Together journeys, Courtney said they can have the smaller canoes out more often.
“Youth engagement is a big priority with what we do, and in this area with Stó:lō traditional territory, canoe pulling is a very special cultural and spiritual thing,” he noted. “I thought this would be a great way of working with kids.”
The canoes are made of fibreglass, but their design is traditional Coast-Salish, including a wolf’s head at the bow.
Courtney felt it was important to launch the boats properly, and reached out to Skowkale Chief Mark Point for advice. He helped to name the canoes, appoint honourary skippers for the traditional teachings, and guide a ceremony that took place at Cultus Lake’s Main Beach.
“There was a circle that was done on the beach,” Courtney said. “Witnesses were called to speak about the importance of canoes. Blankets were given out. We followed the lead of Chief Point, and Councillor Darcy Paul of Skowkale First Nation led the ceremony.
“It was great.”
Courtney’s plan is to use the canoes as often as possible up and down the Fraser Valley.
“We’ll work on getting our messages across about healthy lifestyle choices, and hopefully there is a traditional component as well,” Courtney said. “We’ll learn from the kids and the kids will learn from us, and together we’ll build mutual trust and respect.
“We had a great turnout for the launch and I anticipate lots of interest.”