It was less than a year ago that Kw’umut Lelum brought together elders, community leaders, children and youth to launch Slhexun’s tthu Xpey’ (Medicine of the Cedar) with the blessing of an immense cedar log.
On July 11th, we once again gathered together as a community - nutsamaat shqaluwun – to witness the awakening of our new cedar canoe. Carved from the cedar log by renowned Coast Salish artist Luke Marsden and his brother John, along with KL youth, this 41-foot canoe will carry our canoe family on their Tribal Journey to Puyallup.
Kulleet Bay, in Stz’uminus territory, sparkled inviting and blue in the July sunshine as our nine Member Nations were welcomed to witness the blessing and naming of a vessel that took almost a year to carve. The art, tradition, uy shqaluwun and care that went into creating the canoe seemed to make it shine. But this project has been about so much more than reviving a Coast Salish tradition or even having a new craft to safely carry our children along the highway of their ancestors. Slhexun’s tthu Xpey’ provided a chance to bring key teachings to our kids, to connect them to their land and to their culture, and to inspire them through art. And imagine the pride they will have at each landing stop along the way to Puyallup as they disembark from a canoe they each had a hand in bringing to life!
Luke shared a story with the assembled guests about the day they spent steaming the canoe. It had taken them longer than expected, and with each addition of heat and rocks, the canoe hissed and spoke to them. As the night came on, they realized they would have to continue to work. “While there is a teaching that says you shouldn’t undertake this kind of work at night,” said Luke, “there is also an important teaching that says you must finish what you have started.” Luke and his brother and a few others kept watch and continued to steam the canoe as it got dark and the moon rose high and full. “I came out into the clearing where the canoe was, and I saw it shining in the bright moonlight and I knew the Creator and our ancestors were giving us the name.” And so the canoe was named Lhqel' ts' qixune' tun – loosely translated to Moon Beam, or perhaps “the shining in the dark”.
Kwumut Lelum’s youth have been practicing their protocol and performed for the guests in full regalia. They were jubilant as they sang and danced – drawing from the energy of the smiling crowd around them. Then it was time to get the canoe in the water. It was gently pushed into the warm and rising tide and then surrounded by well-wishers who blessed it with cedar. Finally, the canoe family got it to take it for a first paddle around the bay. The wind was at their backs as they paddled swiftly away. As they turned around to come back into shore, the crowd became quiet and we faintly heard a bright voice raised in song coming across the ocean. The single voice was joined by others on the canoe and the song became stronger…and then others on the shore began to sing – a family acknowledging and honouring our connectedness across the water.
The KL canoe family will be travelling the highway of their ancestors, from Kulleet Bay in Stz’uminus to Puyallup in Washington in just under 2 weeks. Along the way, they will be visiting other Nations and rep
resenting KL by performing protocol. May Lhqel' ts' qixune' tun light their way for a safe journey.
Photos by Tricia Thomas