Members of the Qalipu First Nation will take part in a canoeing expedition in Newfoundland and Labrador this weekend to bring people together from across the province.
The expedition, called "Pulling Together," was first held in British Columbia in 2001 and centres on promoting conversations about mental health, addiction and reconciliation. A team of four canoes will leave from Howley, near Deer Lake, on Saturday morning, with participants setting up camp and staying the night after crossing Sandy Lake.
The event is being held in partnership with the Qalipu Nation, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Brent Watkins, DFO's area chief of conservation protection, hopes the event can do what the name entails and bring different groups together to discuss issues in the community.
"We really want to raise the awareness that these issues are in our communities, and are not to be hidden. They should be spoken about and talked about, and people that are recovering from addictions need to be accepted in the community," he said at the event's launch Friday.
"With reconciliation, it's right in the title: Pulling Together. And we've done that with the Qalipu band … but we also want to learn. This is a part of the journey."
Over the course of the weekend, Watkins said, canoeists will take part in traditional meals and share their stories and culture. He hopes the time spent together, both on the water and at camp, will help strengthen the bonds already in place.
"We learn from each other, learn about better working relationships, and hopefully we'll just continue on building on what we have now," he said.
"Everyone has their own mental health issues, and everyone has dealing with anxiety. So just to get away, and to sit on the beach and talk to my friends … that's what I'm looking forward to the most about this journey."
Stephen Rose, manager of fisheries and enforcement with the Qalipu Nation and organizer of the trip, said he can't wait to get out on the water.
"We're going to be the first First Nation in Eastern Canada to participate in solidarity with the communities in B.C. in moving this initiative forward.… We're excited, they're excited. I'm honoured to be a part of it," Rose said.
"My favourite part of camping is the food," he added, laughing. "I'm really looking forward to spending this time with people on the land, in the country, sharing our culture.… I feel like we'll all be a little bit closer coming out the other end of it."
The four canoes will take close to 10 people for the first iteration of the event, but hope to expand to allow the public to row in the future. In the meantime, organizers are encouraging the public to paddle in a body of water on their own in solidarity and to share their pictures online.