An eight-day canoe journey was what was in store for the Gitga’at First Nation last week in preparation for a festival of 5,000 coming from the shores of northern Alaska down to Washington.
The Tribal Journeys – Qatuwas Festival of 2014 is taking place in Bella Bella, B.C. from July 13 – 19 and First Nations from up and down the coast have been invited by the Heiltsuk people to celebrate a gathering of momentous occasion, and it’s been an annual tradition for over 20 years.
“Oh it’s huge. You can’t imagine how huge [the importance of the festival] is,” said Jennifer Clifton, Gitga’at canoe journey events coordinator.
“The northern crew is called ‘Gathering Strength’. That’s the journey we’ve done for the last nine years in the Prince Rupert area … As we go along to each community, we keep picking up youth participants from each community, so that at the end of the journey, we’ve gathered all the strength we need.”
The festival in Bella Bella will feature feasting, sharing, celebrating and ceremonial dancing by the numerous First Nations communities. Hartley Bay, Nis’ga, Kitkatla and Haida Nations launched their canoes from July 7 to 9 to reach Bella Bella in time for the festival.
“On their voyage, the pullers, many of them youth, rediscover traditional ecological knowledge and environmental stewardship about weather and tides. They also gain respect for the ocean and its power and how to work together as a team, building on individual strengths,” said a release by the Gitga’at First Nation.
“[The festival] takes the youth out of their comfort zone and they start to look at who they are and where they want to go and what their adult life will look like and how they can achieve that,” said Clifton.
Five thousand people are expected to gather for the Tribal Journeys – Qatuwas 2014 Festival.