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Master canoe carver recounts qathet region reconciliation project experiences

Joe Martin returns to community to highlight his new book

Nuu-chah-nulth master canoe carver Joe Martin will be recounting his experiences in the qathet region with the Hɛhɛwšin (the way forward) reconciliation canoe journey project in 2017 at Willingdon Beach, which is part of his new book.

Called Making a Chaputs: the Teachings and Responsibilities of a Canoe Maker, and co-authored with Royal BC Museum former curator Alan Hoover, the book is described by the museum, which published the title, as: “a rich visual testament to the practical and cultural power of the dugout canoe, balanced in its description of meaning and method.”

Martin and Hoover will be presenting the book at Evergreen Theatre on August 5 at 5 pm. The event is free and everyone is welcome. According to a media release from Powell River Public Library, the canoes will be on display and members of the Hɛhɛwšin group will welcome and thank Joe for sharing.

The release stated that a whole chapter is dedicated to the Hɛhɛwšin initiative, with photos of familiar faces beginning the work of meaningful action and conversation in our community.

In an interview with the Peak, Martin said the book is mostly about how to make a canoe and the protocols and responsibilities of a canoe maker.

Martin said acquisition of cedar suitable for canoe projects has become more difficult because “most of our forests are gone, for canoes, totem poles and longhouses.”

“There won’t be many forests left that are able to provide anything like that anymore,” added Martin. “The forest companies continue to target all those best areas. To make a canoe or longhouse or a totem pole, a really nice piece of cedar is required.”

Martin said when he was asked to participate in the Hɛhɛwšin project, he asked if he was able to cut the cedar in the forest and connect people back to their land.

“That’s the whole purpose of it,” added Martin.

He said the log, instead, was produced by a forest company. He said what was interesting was students from local schools, who went to be part of the project, counted the rings on the tree and determined it started as a seedling five years after King Henry the Eighth died.

“They had it all figured out,” said Martin. “It was interesting to look at it that way.”

Martin said he has been involved in several projects such as Hɛhɛwšin, using his time to help train other carvers and the protocols of canoe carving, which he learned from his father and grandfathers. His family was located in an ancient First Nations village close to Tofino on Vancouver Island.

“People have been living on that site for about 10,000 years,” said Martin. “It’s one of the oldest villages on the island.”

Martin said a chapter of his book has been dedicated to his time in the traditional territory of Tla’amin Nation, working on the Hɛhɛwšin project. He said the book features photographs of the canoe carving.

Coastal culture

During his presentation at Evergreen Theatre, Martin will talk about how canoes were a very important part of coastal culture. He said First Nations people, all the way from Alaska to California, and maybe even further south, were reliant upon canoes.

“It was a very incredible thing that helped knowledge to shift from one part of the land to another,” said Martin.

He said passing along his skills is important to him, and it is a responsibility, having been taught by his forebears.

“If you learn something, you have to share it and pass it on,” said Martin.

He said he will be working on a canoe project, next, with Homalco First Nation near Campbell River. A log is being delivered this week.

He said, however, that he is looking forward to coming back to this community to share his experiences with the Hɛhɛwšin project, as well as his life as a canoe carver.

The library release stated that if people are unfamiliar with Martin’s legacy, the documentary ƛaʔuukʷiatḥ Dugout Canoe is available on CBC Gem and the Knowledge Network, and Martin is featured in an episode with outdoor survivalist Ray Mears in the TV show Northern Wilderness.

Copies of Making a Chaputs: the Teachings and Responsibilities of a Canoe Maker, will be available for purchase at the event, or can be borrowed from the local library.