A fleet of traditional cedar canoes will pass through the waters lining Parksville Qualicum Beach at the end of the month.
The majestic spectacle is part of an annual tribal canoe journey bringing coastal First Nations together. Participants come from as far away as Suquamish, WA traveling the ocean for nearly one month before arriving at the destination point in Bella Bella for the Qatuwas Festival.
The canoes stop at various tribes along the way — including Snaw-Naw-As (Nanoose First Nation) on Saturday and Qualicum First Nation on Sunday — where they will either pick up more participants or spend the night with a host community responsible for feeding and accommodating the paddlers.
“It (the tribal journey) increases the further you go along,” explains QFN member Carrie Reid, who has participated four times. “As the canoes stop in more communities naturally more people become part of the journey.”
Reid describes the experience as “addictive. You’re absolutely exhausted after paddling all day and feel like you can’t even lift your arms but the energy is so positive,” she said. “It’s a really safe way to suffer — if that makes any sense.”
Reid said the journey aims to retain First Nations culture, history and tradition.
“You drive down the road and all your see is colonization,” she said. “There’s something about being out on the water and you’re absolutely not in control in this huge ocean that both craddles you and shakes you up … Life is just so real out there.”
Reid said in the past she’s seen elephant seals, killer whales and grey whales on the journey.
“Miracles happen out there that you can’t prepare for or plan for,” she said. “It’s incredibly beautiful.”
While Reid is not partaking in the journey this year she will help QFN host the paddlers by preparing and serving food, as well as finding comfortable accommodations for elders and showers for participants.
She expects to see 400 to 450 paddlers.
According to the itinerary there are 21 stops before reaching Bella Bella.
Reid explains participants engage in what is called “protocol” — a way of showing gratitude to host communities.
“It’s a way to honour the host,” she said. “Usually there are gifts and singing and drumming.”
Reid said often the host communities are quite generous.
“So sometimes you’ll spent 10 hours paddling and then 10 hours doing protocol — I can’t even think of something that’s equivalent to that,” she said.
Hundreds of First Nations are partaking in this year’s tribal journey. There are three different coastal routes: the southern route, starting in Suquamish; the west coast route, starting in Quinault; and the north west route, starting in Bella Coola. According to the tribal journey webpage more than 100 canoes are expected to arrive in Bella Bella July 13 where they will stay for one week before barging the canoes back to their respective land.
Reid said this year will mark the 20th tribal journey. She said elders, children and even babies will make the trip.
“People always say we do it for the kids (plan the tribal journey), but we do it as much for them as we do it for ourselves,” she said. “It’s just amazing.”
Participants of the tribal journey are slated to stop in Nanoose Bay June 28 and Qualicum Bay June 29.