First Nation on Vancouver Island crafts first dugout canoe in 50 years

·3 min read
Paddlers load into the cupuc (canoe) for its first launch on the Gordon River. At the rear of the boat: Makah master carver Micah McCarty, and in front of him, apprentice carver Trystan Dunn-Jones. (Suzanne Ahearne/UVic - image credit)
Paddlers load into the cupuc (canoe) for its first launch on the Gordon River. At the rear of the boat: Makah master carver Micah McCarty, and in front of him, apprentice carver Trystan Dunn-Jones. (Suzanne Ahearne/UVic - image credit)

The Pacheedaht First Nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island has carved and launched a dugout canoe for the first time in half a century.

While canoe carvings were made in the community during that time, none were completed and made seaworthy. The new canoe will be for community use, and its construction involved everyone in the community, including children.

The canoe was launched onto the Gordon River on Thursday after a blessing ceremony with all of the nation's Elders present.

Trystan Dunn-Jones, a 25-year-old apprentice carver from Pacheedaht First Nation, told All Points West guest host Rohit Joseph how much the carving meant to his community.

Suzanne Ahearne/UVic
Suzanne Ahearne/UVic

"I truly believe that this project really brought everything from all aspects of the territory — the resources, the people, the culture," he said.

"It all brought it into one really powerful experience to empower the young men to do this and to create this spirit being from a tree that was here from our ancestors, from ages and ages ago."

Under the supervision of Makah master carver Micah McCarty, Dunn-Jones made the canoe from a hollowed tree.

He described running his fingers over the tree rings to feel how old they were. He says he thinks some of the rings dated the tree at over 50 years old.

"To have that connection not only to the present, but the past … our ancestors, our culture. It was just such a remarkable experience," he said.

Suzanne Ahearne/UVic
Suzanne Ahearne/UVic

Carving helped empower young Pacheedaht men

A dugout canoe is called a cupuc (pronounced chuh-pahtz) in the Ditidaht language, the language spoken in the Pacheedaht First Nation.

Sarah Wright Cardinal, who is Cree from Treaty 8 territory and an assistant professor of child and youth care at the University of Victoria, assisted with the carving as part of a two-year research project with the nation.

"I have come about my work from the perspective that we're all healing from colonial disruptions to our Indigenous identities," she said.

Suzanne Ahearne/UVic
Suzanne Ahearne/UVic

"It really was one of the most powerful experiences in my life, short of birthing my own children."

Cardinal said it was "critically important" to provide opportunities for Indigenous youth within their own communities.

The carving of the canoe served that purpose, according to Cardinal, and it will be the centrepiece of upcoming land-based educational programs in the community.

With help from photos and videos of the canoe's creation, Trystan and other community members plan to create an e-book for children in the nation.

The educational project will culminate in a mini-youth conference next June bringing in other First Nations to "celebrate our learnings and wellness," said Cardinal.

Suzanne Ahearne/UVic
Suzanne Ahearne/UVic

"This isn't going to be the last canoe carved here. I've kind of already got the next one planned out," Trystan said with a laugh.

"I'm hoping to make a smaller one — a sealing canoe. I found, actually, some youth that have asked me to help join up. So I truly do believe that this is just the start."

Cardinal said there is still much to be done with the cupuc, including naming it and paint and design work.

She says it will be ready for tribal journeys to go alongside the youth conference in June next year.

LISTEN | Pacheedaht First Nation connects with traditions and culture through canoe carving:

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