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The K’omoks First Nation received over 50 canoes en route to Campbell River in British Columbia on the annual Tribal Canoe Journey. (Julian Brave NoiseCat) (Secwepemc/St’at’imc) is one of two recipients of the 2017 CJF-CBC Indigenous Journalism Fellowships, established to encourage Indigenous voices and better understanding of Indigenous issues in Canada’s major media and community outlets. He is reporting on the annual Tribal Canoe Journey paddle to Campbell River, B.C., with generous support from the fellowship. Read his previous dispatches here: Part 2: ‘The border is not our border’

Part 3: Battling the waves

Comox, B.C., Aug. 2 — A flotilla of over 50 canoes representing Indigenous communities, from ports as distant as the Quinault and Squaxin Island reservations in Washington state, paddled into K’omoks First Nation territory on Wednesday.

As skippers beached their canoes, bows resting gunwale to gunwale on K’omoks shores in a formidable line that linked history to future, crews broke into the paddle songs of their respective home waters, celebrating the joys of arrival, kinship and community.

Standing on the beach to greet the visiting canoes, a K’omoks delegation dressed in their finest regalia and led by culture keeper Andy Everson responded with a resounding rendition of the enduring songs indigenous to this territory.

The K’omoks welcomed over 1,000 pullers and support crew members to their community for two days of feasting, singing, dancing and storytelling.

When the two-day protocol is done, the K’omoks will launch their own canoe on the Salish Sea, joining the Indigenous flotilla for the last leg of the Tribal Canoe Journey . More than 100 canoes are expected to land at Campbell River, the canoe journey’s final port-of-call, on Saturday, Aug. 5. Andy Everson, left, led the K’omoks delegation in songs welcoming Tribal Canoe Journey canoes ashore on Aug. 2. (Julian Brave NoiseCat) A family in every canoe

Every canoe on this journey has a family. Every family has a paddle song. Each paddle song, just like each canoe, has a name and a maker. These important details of origin, lineage, history and journey come to life in stories that crisscross the Salish Sea, extending to the north and south, to the inland and out into the Pacific Ocean, like the warp and weft of the traditional cedar bark hats the pullers wear out on the water.

One story that came to life on the beach after a hard day’s pull was that of the Nokedjak, a canoe gifted by Guy Capoeman, a Quinault carver, to the Squaxin Island canoe family in 2012 when Squaxin hosted the journey.

"Nokedjak was the village name of my ancestors who were also carvers of ocean-sailing canoes," said Capoeman, who estimated that he has built 28 such canoes.

"Fifty years from now, when I’m dead and gone, someone will tell that story of Nokedjak and say, ‘Yeah, this is where this comes from and this is what it means.’" A canoe crew puller wearing a large woven cedar bark hat arrived in K’omoks First Nation territory on Aug. 2. (Julian Brave NoiseCat) Among the Indigenous communities of the Pacific Northwest, canoes aren’t just the preferred mode of transport — they’re the vehicles that have carried Indigenous families, communities and cultures back to strength in the 21st century.

"What better gift to a tribal journey recipient than a canoe that can be put into the village and impact lives?" Capoeman asked rhetorically. Potlatches outlawed for decades

Here in Canada, a nation that prides itself on its enduring commitment to religious freedom, the 1885 Potlatch Ban criminalized Indigenous cultural and spiritual gatherings like this journey.

Historically, Indigenous ceremonies welcomed thousands of guests to […]

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