I was extremely fortunate to be able to take part in a canoe blessing and naming at Nehemiah. Chris Cooper has made fantastic trips with large canoes, many ocean-going, for years, and one that he had repainted last winter, was brought to Nehemiah to be blessed and named.
To get there, we drove about 3/4 of the way to Williams lake, and then south for another 2 and half hours to reach spectacular Chilko Lake where the Nehemiah band was headquartered. On route we were greeted by Mt Ts’yl?os who watches over the territory. He will help you, we were informed, but if you abuse the land, he will find ways of paying you back.
On the way we drove by Konni Lake
(No indication which year the last service was performed….)
It was a long and dusty drive, but finally we bumped over the last track to the Ts’il?os provincial park.
Red mountains reared on one side of us
And when we could look down fabulously turquoise Chilko Lake (the colour is due to glacial flour suspended in the water) an active fire was obvious, fed by very strong winds. It is remote enough that it is going to be allowed to burn unhindered.
The blessing and naming ceremony was held at the historic village, which is next door to the park camp ground. First the covers were taken off the canoe.
Next Chief Roger Williams welcomed us and sang a song about the salmon travelling up the river, and its importance to his people. (Chris Cooper on the right.)
The drum bears the signature of the Xeni Gwet’in government.
Next a wonderful singer called Gilbert Solomon gave a performance. When asked what his song was about, he said that it was also to do with the salmon, but it could mean anything: each person would make his or her own interpretation. You could only really understand it if you took some of his special medicinal plants….
The canoe was now displayed in all its glory. The artist was Una Ann, who lives in Langley. The front animal is the raven, because that is Una Ann’s clan. The raven is raising his hands – partly because Una works with her hands, but also because that is a greeting and it means people come in peace. Behind the raven is a wolf.
Next in line is the eagle.
Behind it is a bear
And finally the seal followed by the orca. All the creatures on the canoe rely on the salmon.
After a great lunch put on by the band, served in a beautiful log shelter, Una put her regalia together.
She posed in front of the canoe. She made all the cloth and cedar parts herself; one or other of her brothers did the silver work.
Una Ann’s mother is Lilian Campbell (or Lillian Moyer) was with us. She a respected elder of the Tahltan Nation, currently residing in Dease Lake. She is a hard-working activist for First Nations people.
First Chris gave a speach, thanking the band and reflecting all our thoughts by saying what an honour it was to be able to come here for the blessing and naming.
Blankets of appreciation were given to Pam, who was very instrumental in helping to organize this, and Chief Roger Williams.
A very respected elder gave the blessing, first in her own language, then in English, in such a soft voice, few of us could hear.
Chief Roger Williams was the first to sing.
Followed by the irripressible Gilbert.
Chris had his own drum, and he was given a canoeing song when he made the Spirit Dancer journeys. Singing with him is Marilyn, and Trevor, his adopted son.
Finally Una Ann sang a soft prayer.
Then came the naming of the canoe.
Taheltez means “Putting The Canoe Into The Water.” It is pronounced “Tallthull”. (The second “t” is very soft, so said quickly it sounds almost like tall hull). This was the name given to a canoe by Chief Roger Williams’ grandfather, Samboulyan. Gilbert gave a wonderful demonstration, with his body, of how the canoe rushed like a galloping horse into the lake with a huge splash! So the name chosen for Chris’s canoe is: “Samboulyan Taheltez.” Una will paint it on the canoe when it goes back down to the coast.
The wind was too wild to allow us to launch the canoe right away. I wanted to leave early the following morning to get to town and shop for more building supplies. The crew kindly got themselves organized so that Jimmy and I could have a ride in the canoe before we left.
The crew carefully lifted it into the water.
Because Jimmy and I did not have suitable footwear, the canoe was held steady while we climbed in from the shore.
Because I was away from home overnight, I had my dogs with me. The crew decided they would have to come, too.
And we’re off!
Paddling was very different to what I am used to. The strokes are very fast – and, of course, having canoed a lot alone, or with inexperienced people, I keep trying to steer!
I was back on land within the hour but Chris decided it was too rough to beach the canoe there – there was a more sheltered cove along the shore. He relaunched the canoe and took it round there.
What an incredible experience!