First Nations teens will take in the healing medicine of the cedar as two famed Coast Salish carvers teach the youth over the coming year how to carve a 40-foot canoe for next summer’s Tribal Journeys.
A community celebration was held last Monday in Stz’uminus First Nation territory to celebrate the partnership between Kw’umut Lelum Child and Family Services and artists Luke and John Marston.
The log provided by Western Forest Products is from the Sayward area and the youth participated in a traditional blessing ceremony, circling the cedar to singing and drumming, out front of Luke’s A-frame style workshop overlooking the Salish Sea.
Kw’umut Lelum executive director Bill Yoachim said the project is about bring back some of the traditional teachings heard around the cedar tree.
“It’s not just a log and it’s not just making a canoe. It’s the teachings around it and through the process,” he said. “We’re connecting the kids to the disciplines of art, carving and the cedar log.”
The Nanaimo-based agency supports children from member Nations, including: Halalt, Lake Cowichan, Lyackson, Málexeł, Penelakut, Qualicum, Snaw-naw-as, Snuneymux and Stz’uminus.
Kw’umut Lelum has been participating for eight years in the annual Tribal Journeys paddle, which this year stopped at Shell Beach.
As part of the project, Luke Marston went with the youth to the Royal B.C. Museum to help them connect with the past and learn more about traditional canoes dating back to the early 1800s, which he said “were some of the best canoes, even better then the ones built today.”
“Now I’m going to start making the marquette, having some fun and just enjoy the process of it all,” Luke said.
It will mostly likely be tight-knit group working weekly alongside the Marstons while also practicing Hu’lqu’minum and and learning to carve their own paddle for next year.
John worked with LSS students as part of a Language and Land Based class offered during the second semester of last school year and spent a couple months at the school carving the Welcome Figure that will be installed in the foyer.
Luke said he’s also excited about the new opportunity to work with youth and pass along the skills he’s learned.
“I wasn’t really drawn to being a teacher in the past, I’m still learning myself, but now I’m at a point where I know I have things to offer and give,” he said. “I love to give back. It’s all about that cycle. My teachers taught me, and I’ve had mentors through my life that have got me to where I am today, so even if I can show them a little bit then maybe later on in their life they want to go back to it, they’ll already have those basic skills.”
Some of those basic skills will be developed along the same lines as the Marston brothers learned to become respected carvers known around the world.
“I remember making miniatures when I was a teenager. My brother and I would always just make examples of small canoes, or canoe bowls,” Luke said. “Something like that would be a perfect teaching tool because they get to learn about each part of the canoe.”
Josephine Underhay, 20, was raised in the care of Kw’umut Lelum and described at last week’s event how participating in eight Tribal Journeys has shaped her life and taught her to love her culture.
“You go on Tribal Journeys and you get a canoe family and it’s probably one of the best things in the world,” she said.
“You get to meet people who’ve been what you’ve been through and who share your story and who you can really relate to.”
Over the coming weeks the youth and their mentors will all visit the museum in Victoria again before beginning work to shape the exterior the canoe.
The Marston brothers will follow a traditional style, and while the experienced carvers have both completed ‘smaller’ canoes in the range of 22 feet, this will be their largest Coast Salish canoe they’ve worked on.
Luke said he’s anticipating many elders and community members will visit the workshop to sit with him and John as they carve.
“It’s huge for everybody. It’s awesome and brings everyone together in a positive way,” he said.