On Tuesday, August 9, family members and friends of Prince Rupert locals taking part in the sixth annual Gathering Strength canoe journey greeted the local and out of town paddlers at the waterfront with a noticeable sense of pride as the nine traditional First Nations canoes arrived on shore.
“The young people that have been traveling with us are powerful people. They have taken us this far, and we did it without any type of motor,” commented the Gathering Strength Canoe journey creator Paul Mercer, from the Nisga’a Nation.
This year, more than 200 people including Aboriginal youth, with a focus on individuals at risk and future leaders, as well as members of the RCMP and enforcement officers from Fisheries and Oceans took part in the journey, that ended on the weekend. Participants paddled for long hours each day on the ocean and up the Nass River with few breaks. Once the canoes reached the daily destination, paddlers still had to set up camp and prepare meals.
After the paddlers dock in Atlin Terminal last week, they headed to the Museum/Longhouse for a celebration with dancing, drumming, and lunch.
Tsimshian Hereditary Chief Clarence Nelson, was one of the many honourable guests in attendance at the afternoon celebration, and expressed how proud he was of the paddlers for retracing journeys of their ancestors along the coast. He also vocalized other aspects of the journey that he was pleased about.
“It’s not just about paddling. We have mixed nations…It’s about relationship building. It is meant to pull everyone together,” said Nelson during a speech he made at the celebration.
Mercer, the founder of the journey, also voiced how delighted he was that the youth were learning more about their culture.
“Some of them had never sung [traditional songs] before, now they’re singing. Some of them had never danced before, now they’re dancing. There are so many lessons taught during the canoe journey,” said Mercer during last week’s ceremony.
“When the paddlers return, people will see something different in them. They will come back with a stronger spirit. They will be more connected to themselves, and the coast. In order to get where we are going, they are going to be paddling with their heart, minds and spirits.”
The Gathering Strength canoe journey was created by Mercer, who started the canoe journey to help participants gain a great appreciation of the First Nations traditions and culture, as well as help build bridges between the youth and enforcement agencies.