On the same day Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau devoted his entire United Nations General Assembly speech to Canada’s treatment of indigenous peoples, a small reconciliation gathering took place at Willingdon Beach in Powell River.
Hɛhɛwšɩn (The Way Forward) Reconciliation Canoe Journey Project was blessed during a traditional Tla’amin Nation ceremony on September 21.
The canoe carving project is intended to create a more meaningful understanding of reconciliation through community participation.
Tla’amin Nation hegus Clint Williams was on hand to witness the first cuts being made and said the special way the project represents reconciliation is inspiring.
“The symbolism represents a story that says, ‘If we’re paddling in the same direction, we can get to many places, but if we start pulling in opposite directions we’re going to stay where we are, or we’re just going to go around in circles,’” said Williams. “Looking at this as a vessel in improving relations within the community, this shows a really strong symbolism of what we want this canoe to do.”
The Hɛhɛwšɩn project is entirely grassroots and area organizations and governments, including Tla’amin, City of Powell River, Powell River Regional District and School District 47, are providing support at arm’s length.
Hɛhɛwšɩn deliberately avoids technology to connect with the community, such as social and mainstream media, according to city councillor Rob Southcott.
Southcott said the group is relying instead on being personal, talking and sharing stories face to face.
“It’s doing it their way to understand what their way is,” said Southcott.
School District 47 coordinator for outdoor and ecological learning Ryan Barfoot has been involved with the project since its early days by assisting with writing grant applications and bringing people together. According to Barfoot, reconciliation is an abstract concept to think and talk about.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to take what was the theoretical aspect of reconciliation in Canada, make it very real and tangible and really make it on a people-to-people level,” said Barfoot.
The Hɛhɛwšɩn project sets the stage and puts some key pieces in place for understanding reconciliation, he added.
“But good learning travels its own path and is based on the learning environment, the people who show up and the conversations they have,” said Barfoot. “That’s not something that can be prescribed.”
The Hɛhɛwšɩn reconciliation canoe is being carved from 8 am-4:30 pm Monday to Friday at Willingdon Beach. All area residents are welcome to participate.