Much anticipated Tsleil-Waututh Nation canoe festival returns for another summer

In just two weeks time, hundreds of spectators will descend upon Whey-A-Wichen (Cates Park) to observe dozens of canoes take to the water.

The Canoe Festival, held by the səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation) on North Vancouver waters every year, is returning for another weekend.

Running June 28-30, the spectacle sees First Nations communities from across the United States and Canada travel to the North Shore to set up camp across the weekend, socialize, run pop-up stalls, and compete in one of the biggest Indigenous sporting events of the year.

Chief Jen Thomas said the Nation is “thrilled” to be hosting yet another season of canoe races on home soil, as the event is a hotly anticipated cultural celebration among the local host nations.

“Canoe pulling is a celebration of our connection to the waters within our territories and represents who we are as a people. We welcome back canoe families from across the region and are thrilled to host these races on waters that the Tsleil-Waututh people work so carefully to restore and steward,” she said.

“We wish everyone a safe and enjoyable weekend.”

Spanning across three days, the races set to take place include 7U age groups, 50-plus, and everything in between.

Tsleil-Waututh Nation councillor Deanna George hopes this year’s iteration will pique the interest of the younger generation – over the previous decade or so there has been a particular push to get more youth participating, she said.

If the thought of taking to the water isn’t alluring, there’s much that can be said for the witnessing of the races and simply soaking in the atmosphere of the event, she added.

The most enthralling races to watch are the ones where it is impossible to tell the outcome, she added, and nail-biters are guaranteed.

“Some of the races are really tight, and those are the most exciting. The one’s where it’s first, second, third place, boom, boom, boom, one after the other,” she said.

And if you’re unsure on the teams who are competing? “You can just cheer for whomever,” said George.

“It’s just about the positive energy more than anything.”

Away from the sporting action there are races on land for kids to take part in, alongside rows upon rows of stalls for visitors to peruse.

George said the stalls are where she stocks up on earrings, drumsticks and shawls, but there are wares there for everyone, Indigenous or not, and especially those who are interested in learning more about First Nations culture and traditions.

Weekend race schedule:

Friday, June 28

Captain’s Meeting 4 p.m., races start 4.30 p.m.

Singles: 19U Boys & Girls, 16U Boys & Girls, 13U Boys & Girls, 10U Open

Doubles: Buck-Fifty Race, 19U Buck w/ 10U, 13U Mixed, 16U Mixed, 19U Mixed

6 Paddles: 7U Open, 10U Open, 13U Mixed, 16U Mixed, 19U Mixed

Saturday, June 29

Captain’s Meeting 11 a.m., races start 11:30 a.m.

Singles: Men, Klootchmen

Doubles: Men, Klootchmen, Masters 50+ Mixed

6 Paddles: 7U, 10U, JR Buckskins - 13U, Generations Race, Buckskins, Klootchmen, Men, Masters 50+

11 Paddles: 10U, JR. Buckskins - 13U, Klootchmen, Men

Sunday, June 30

Marathon Singles 7:30 a.m, Captain’s Meeting 9:30 a.m., Races start 10 a.m.

Marathon Single: Men, Klootchmen

Singles: Masters 50+, Golden Master 60+

11 Paddles: 10U, Jr. Buckskins - 13U, Buckskins - 16U, Klootchmen, Men

6 Paddles: Women, Men

Doubles: Klootchmen, Men, Mixed, Masters 50+

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

Mina Kerr-Lazenby, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Shore News