At the spot where the hɛhɛwšin canoe was carved, special signage commemorating the project was unveiled at a ceremony held at Willingdon Beach on Sunday, November 17.
With several dozen people gathered to witness the event, cloth covering the special signage was removed and the new signage was brushed with cedar boughs before those in attendance could go and read the messaging.
Speaking to the assembly, Cyndi Pallen, one of the organizers, said hɛhɛwšin is an ongoing grassroots reconciliation movement that started with a mixed group of non-indigenous people from the upper Sunshine Coast who wanted to reach out and connect with the indigenous people of this land by honouring the teachings and territory of the Tla’amin people.
“The traditional practices and protocols of the Tla’amin people have been generously shared with us and are being put into practice and respected throughout this journey,” said Pallen. “While this process was initiated from the non-indigenous community, it is the indigenous people who are guiding us and leading the way.”
She said hɛhɛwšin has been a gateway, bringing forth the teachings of Tla’amin people through supporting various gatherings and ceremonies.
“These ceremonies are witnessed by the non-indigenous population so they may learn about Tla’amin culture and practices, as an act of reconciliation,” she added. “Reconciliation has a number of layers; hɛhɛwšin works on building people-to-people connections with the goal being for the non-indigenous people to gain insight and learn about the challenges faced by all first nations people, and more importantly, at the local level, how Tla’amin people have lived here as a people and worked together to live on this land, in a good way.
Phil Russell, another of the organizers, said once people have learned about the reality of Canada’s impact on indigenous people across the land, they can no longer, in good conscience, turn a blind eye to the consequences of that history.
“Right now, as we know, with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Inquiry, we are actually in genocide; it hasn’t actually ended,” said Russell. “We may not have created these systems of control, but as a society, we continue to maintain and benefit from them. These systems supported a genocide that was carried out against indigenous people. We cannot move forward while people are being left behind.”
Russell said it is a collective responsibility to stand up for the rights of indigenous people and make changes.
“We all need to heal this legacy,” he added. “We can’t change the past but we can choose our future. Our actions will determine what kind of world we will leave behind for all of our children.
Pallen said the hɛhɛwšin movement started with a canoe carving project.
“Members of the non-indigenous community came together to fundraise and work towards creating a traditional carved dug-out canoe to present to the Tla’amin community,” said Pallen. “Master canoe builder Joe Martin from the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation agreed to join the project and lead a team of carvers: Alvin Wilson, Sherman Pallen, Ivan Rosypskye, Russell and three Tla’amin youth carvers: John Dominic, Mathew Louie and Dakota Gustafson.”
Pallen said the carving took place at Willingdon Beach in the fall of 2017 over a period of eight weeks and was witnessed by thousands of people and busloads of children from the school district who came to participate and learn about Tla’amin culture and history firsthand. The 26-foot long hɛhɛwšin canoe was presented to the Tla’amin people in a traditional ceremony held in November 2017.
“What started out as a simple carving project turned into a full-blown, grassroots reconciliation movement involving hundreds of people from both indigenous and non-indigenous communities,” said Pallen. “The hɛhɛwšin project continues to bring forth the teachings of the ancestors of Tla’amin.”
She added that this means honouring and having respect for self, family and community ways of life prior to contact.