Canoe carving project brings youth closer to their culture

·2 min read

Master carver Frank Marchand is spending his days turning a 4,000 kilogram cottonwood log into a canoe, complete with an intricate coyote on the bow of the boat.

But he's also taking the opportunity to work with youth from the Westbank First Nation (WFN) to teach them a little bit about their culture, and introduce them to the world of carving.

"I love teaching the kids," Marchand said.

"I don't like sitting there by myself carving a canoe, it's no fun. When I've got kids around me or other people that want to learn, it's fun to teach."

Dominika Lirette/CBC
Dominika Lirette/CBC

The log was donated to the Westbank First Nation by the Central Okanagan School District, which had an extra log leftover at the end of the school year from an Indigenous program in its schools.

Nicole Werstuik, manager of youth and recreation for WFN, got a grant from the WFN intergovernmental affairs department to start a summer carving program.

Students meet with Marchand and his apprentice Will Poitras twice a week for two hours at a time to work on the project.

Sydney McDougall, 11, described the process as satisfying.

"It's fun carving stuff up," she said. "It's not that hard. It's like you have an arm workout though, it burns after a bit."

During the project, she's learned more about her background, and how important it is to participate in her culture.

Her brother, 14-year-old Lee Thomas McDougall, said he's learned more about the technical side of carving.

"A lot of the wood is soft because it's very moist in the middle but at the back end, there's this one part that's really hard and it's just a real tough challenge," he said.

Dominika Lirette/CBC
Dominika Lirette/CBC

Poitras wishes he had had the opportunity to participate in a project like this when he was in high school.

"This gives [the youth] an opportunity to remember who they are, where they come from and the opportunity to participate in our culture which isn't always, especially living within cities, an option for youth," he said.

Once it's done, the canoe will be called 'kwkwyuma? snk'lip', which means small coyote.

The name came from an encounter with two young coyotes when project organizers visited the carving site in June.

"They must have lost their mom," Werstuik said. "They were just hanging around the log itself and running around. So we gifted them and left them a food offering."

That connection inspired the project to be named for the pair.

The canoe is expected to be finished by Aug.12, when a ceremony to launch it into water will take place.

In the meantime, Werstuik is hoping other members of WFN get involved.

"We welcome our people to come down and check out the project or even help with carving in the afternoons," she said.