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This year will be the third year that the Canadian government has marked Truth and Reconciliation Day to recognize and honour the children who never returned home from residential schools and the survivors, their children, families and communities. As we continue to learn from our Indigenous community, our commitment at SCSS to creating opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members to work together in good relations toward common goals strengthens. As we reflect on our ongoing truth and reconciliation, we look to the events and programs we participate in. We’re grateful for the Indigenous Elders who invest their energy and time into SCSS. 

One of our valued Elders is Christine Baker, General Manager of Ayás Mén̓men Child & Family Services in the Squamish Valley and the SSCS Indigenous Advisory Committee chair. Among many other initiatives in our community, Baker organizes the Youth Services Truth and Reconciliation Canoe Pull annually on September 30th. Baker understands that stories, paddling and healing are embedded and that being on the water surrounded by the culture of canoes is integral to healing.

“You know, what we do as Indigenous people, when people come in off the canoes, we teach them about protocols like welcoming visitors,” she explains. “They want to come on to our land and I am there to welcome them.” Being on the water offers a place to focus and to listen to the canoe skipper. It’s tradition to hear the ancestors while in a canoe, paddling alongside others in a unified way. As traditional languages are spoken and taught, Indigenous, non-Indigenous, Elders and youth are all together listening to each other’s energies and enjoying the rhythm of the water.

The day of the 2022 Canoe Pull at Alice Lake was a still, sunny, crisp September morning. It was the second annual Truth and Reconciliation Day marked in Canada. There was no wind as members of the Squamish RCMP, youth from Foundry Sea to Sky and Members of Squamish Nation all worked together to put a large canoe into Alice Lake. Youth from Foundry Sea to Sky who had participated in Indigenous-led paddle carving workshops brought their paddles to the lake. Dressed in orange shirts, stating Every Child Matters, approximately 30 paddlers climbed into the canoes and put their carved paddles to work in the lake. When they returned to shore, they were welcomed by Christine Baker, and members of See Appl-tun (Art Harry)’s family, to share their experiences and reflections over hot chocolate and doughnuts.

“What we want to encourage youth to do is create. We want that individual, that young person to create their own story, and to say ‘today I finished this paddle. I can share the story with my family on how I did that and what I’ve learned.’” Baker initiated the first canoe pull in 2021 after a carving workshop hosted by SSCS taught local youth to carve traditional Indigenous paddles. Renowned woodworker Lenny Rubenovitchit and Squamish Nation Carver See Appl-tun / Art Harry taught the craft, the designs and the significance of the canoe in travel and in trade.

The Truth and Reconciliation canoe pull is skippered by members of the Squamish RCMP who completed canoe skippering courses in order to safely support this event. Kelly Dean, lead constable for the Integrated First Nations Unit at the Squamish RCMP is learning Squamish language and continues to work closely with Squamish nation consultants to ensure ongoing reconciliation. The role of the RCMP in this event is significant and respectful as the relationship continues to evolve through knowledge sharing and participation in traditional and cultural events.

The event is significant both for Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth as many are learning their family’s culture at the same time as their peers. “It’s our story. It’s our history, and it’s our true history. It’s not in the books in schools,” explains Baker. “Young people need to understand us as a people. We’re just like anybody else looking for work and trying to get an education. We want our young kids to understand and incorporate some of our culture and the beliefs within our nation.”

“Our children and our young people are learning our own history as well because we lost that. We lost our culture and our language through residential schools,” she continues. “Indigenous youth, settler youth and any other youth are all learning these stories and this history together.”

As much as the canoe pull is about being on the water and connecting with the land, it is also about sharing space and accepting that each paddler is at a different stage of their story. Baker is conscious of meeting each young person where they are in a way that lets them know they’re accepted. “We don’t want to overwhelm the young people too much when we talk about Indian residential schools but any questions they have, we will answer.” she explains. “The canoe pull is about learning how to get into the canoe and how to say their traditional name. There is no right way and there’s no wrong way and that’s pretty much it. It’s just important for them to learn a small little piece of what we as a nation are trying to teach our own children as well. Just participating, that’s enough.”

“Christine has a quiet encouraging presence with the youth, gently reminding them to introduce themselves as they get into the canoe and then to give the Huy chexw, the thank yous as they’re coming out of a canoe,” shares Jody Kramer, Stewardship Officer at Sea to Sky Community Services. “The thing Christine does is create the capacity for everyone to hold space for everyone else to show up. She gently makes sure everyone feels welcome while reminding us about the depth of experiences some youth and their families might be going through. Her work is about making connections and especially connecting people to the ancestors, the culture and to the strength in that connection to the land. That’s why the canoe pull is so significant. Paddling offers that connection.”

In addition to youth, some staff and key donors are invited to witness and participate in the canoe pull. This past Spring TD Bank announced a $300,000 gift to Sea to Sky Community Services over three years to support the wellbeing of youth throughout the Sea to Sky corridor. “Because TD Bank has been so generous with Foundry Sea to Sky, we want to include them in the work,” explains Kramer. “It’s a chance for them to experience the impact of their gift. It takes a lot of time and relationship-building to have this canoe pull. It’s the culmination of multiple youth workshops, many Indigenous Advisory Committee meetings, our staff and programming hours and more. Funding from TD makes reconciliation activities like this possible.

To support reconciliation programs and other youth activities and programming through Foundry Sea to Sky, please consider making a financial gift to Sea to Sky Community Services. When you donate and support local youth, you’re helping to strengthen and build the foundation for healthier communities throughout the Corridor.