It is a beautiful Friday evening in June and the Kwumut Lelum Canoe Family is gathering on Stz’uminus territory to prepare for their upcoming Tribal Journey.
But tonight isn’t about paddling, or water safety; tonight is about protocol.
Children, youth, adults and elders come together in a circle on the grass in the warm sunshine to share and learn the songs that are an integral part of the journey. For some kids, this is their first real immersion in the culture that is their birthright – and this is one of the most important benefits of the Tribal Journey experience for aboriginal kids in care.
The singing and drumming lessons are led by Josephine and Randi – former youth in care and now mentors and leaders in their own right. The women talk about the different songs that they sing on this journey – songs of equality, songs of welcoming, songs of celebration – that the kids will need to learn to take part in the protocol on the Journey. Kwumut Lelum’s canoe family is known and recognized for their songs – there is an amazing responsibility to carry. One of the celebration songs they will be learning was a gift to them from another nation – they will be meeting the owners of the song at Tribal Journey and, as Roy, one of the elders jokes with the kids “they’re going to make sure you get it right”.
Randi and Josephine lead the group in the first song. All voices are raised together – the older children leading the younger, the drums underscoring the cadence of the song. Some children are shy to sing on their own when asked, but when they are encouraged by the group, their voices soar up, clear and beautiful.
Some of the kids are dancers as well, and they get up to share this gift as well. Others join in – some for the first time. There is a sense of fun, of joy, moving and stomping to the beat of the drums, but there is also a clear sense of belonging.
Lori, who is joining the Tribal Journey for her third year, says that Tribal Journey is an opportunity to meet new people and to take pride in your culture. “Tribal Journey, being part of the Canoe Family, is where I got my voice,” she says. And she is taking part this year in more of a leadership role, helping out with the newer kids, and getting them to learn the songs that she herself learned at KL Drumming circles because, as she says “I want to help them find their voice”.