Saturday afternoon, the Musqueam community launched a cedar canoe into the Fraser River in a cultural celebration to show thanks for what the Earth has provided. The launch was a part of a “cultural revitalization project” conducted in partnership with UBC.
This is the first time the ceremony has taken place in 30 years. The canoe used in the ceremony was carved out of a 350-year-old cedar log over the course of three months. Musqueam band member Corrina Sparrow explained that the public ceremony was held to “awaken the spirit of canoe culture at Musqueam once again.”
Canoeing has a deep-rooted heritage and cultural significance for the Musqueam people. Each generation has passed down the knowledge of canoe building from their elders. This generation’s master carvers are Elmer Sampson and Dickie Louis.
“It means a lot to me because we have always been involved with canoes. Our canoe builder before passed away, so there is no one here to build canoes anymore. I had the opportunity to work with him,” said Louis. “Knowing how to build [a canoe] is a real honor, especially learning to build one from a professional canoe builder. Hopefully I can teach younger men in the reserve to carry on this tradition.”
The event began with speeches from community members who took part in the process of carving the canoe. Many members spoke of the relationship that the Musqueam have with their natural environment and about how grateful they are to have the opportunity to be so closely connected with their culture, community and late elders.
After the speeches, the ceremony continued with the canoe and paddlers being blessed by the waters edge. The blessing included traditional songs, drumming and the burning of cedar. As the canoe was lowered into the Fraser River, singing and traditional drumming continued. The entire community cheered and sang until the canoe returned back to shore. The ceremony concluded once the community brought the canoe back to the carving centre and performed one last blessing on the paddlers and the canoe.
This project was made possible by an Social Sciences and Humanities Research Grant worth $500,000, which was given to Sparrow to develop this project. The grant — which is usually meant to help develop research in the social sciences and humanities — has never been given to help the carving of a canoe in an Indigenous community until now.
The canoe will be launched again in celebration of the new coast guard station that is opening in Kitsilano. This is meant to cement the relationship between the coast guard and the tradition practices of the Musqueam.