Isaac is kind, with an amazing smile he bestows on the younger children at camp seeking his attention. He’s also a mean shot with a water pistol.
At 12 years old, Isaac was not connected to his culture or community. He was encouraged by his Mom to get involved in Tribal Journey as a way to discover more about his roots. Isaac just completed his 6th Tribal Journey as part of the KL Canoe Family.
His appreciation for his unique cultural heritage now comes through loud and clear, as he talks of the sacredness of the canoe, and the cedar that is so significant to his people. “The way we harvest and use the cedar has to show respect for the tree – the tree gives us what it wants to give us and no more. We are taught to only take what we need. You listen to the tree, ask for what you want, and say thanks.”
When he describes his experience on Tribal Journeys, he speaks with pride about the protocol that is honoured at every stop they make. And he loves the opportunity to meet new people, to learn and perform the songs and dances as part of protocol, and sharing meals with friends. He says that the KL Canoe Family protocol seems to be looked forward to by other groups and thinks it has to do in particular with the songs that they bring. “Our songs are unique. Some of them start off really mellow at first and then we really get into it and have fun.”
The physical challenge of paddling a canoe in open ocean was difficult at first, but got easier with every year. The scariest moment came in 2013 when rough ocean swells nearly tipped the canoe – something they had prepared for as part of their water safety training – and the Coast Guard needed to be called in. While the canoe stayed upright, the exertion and the chill of the water took their toll and Isaac had to be briefly hospitalized for shock and exhaustion. But this didn’t keep him from completing the paddle. “You just have to get right back into it,” he says.
Tribal Journey sparked some revelations in Isaac about not only his culture, but about family and relationships and the nature of respect. He is trying to develop his skills as a mentor for some of the younger paddlers and recalled an example from one of the Journeys where he intervened between a group of boys and a mother who was yelling at them for their disrespectful behaviour. By acting respectfully towards both parties, he was able to de-escalate the situation. “If you want respect from others, you have to learn how to give it first,”. Then he laughs and says “I guess earning respect means you don’t get shouted at.”
Isaac speaks warmly about the care and support of the canoe family. “You open up to them,” he says, “You eat, sing and dance with them. If you’re having a bad day, or feeling low, you can’t be down for long because everyone is ready to be happy and positive.”
He also remembers the joy and wonder he felt in 2014 when they were approaching shore and could hear the barks and howls of a wolf pack on the beach. By the time they landed, the pack was gone, but their tracks left clear imprints in the wet sand. An opportunity to be so closely surrounded by the natural world is one of the clear draws of the Journey.
Isaac has recently been permanently placed, so 2016 was his last year with the KL canoe family, but he doesn’t think it will be his last Tribal Journey. He has had an invitation from the Bella Bella canoe family, and his uncle has long been part of the Snuneymuxw canoe family. Then again, he may decide to volunteer as part of the Tribal Journey support crew.
When asked what he would tell someone who is considering joining the KL canoe family, he thought about it and then said, “Be prepared for the unseen. Plans get wrecked; people get lost. You need to wait and be patient. But it’s worth it. You should definitely go.”
Photo credit Koda Stacona