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Canoe Blessing at Nehemiah

13 una with canoeI 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.

1 T'sylos MtOn the way we drove by Konni Lake

2 konni lake chiurch

3 church notice(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.

4 approaching lakeRed mountains reared on one side of us

4a red peaks 2And 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.

4b fireThe 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.

4a taking off coversNext 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.)

5 first songThe drum bears the signature of the Xeni Gwet’in government.

18b 1st nations govt.

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….

6 gilbert's first songThe 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.

11 wolf and ravenNext in line is the eagle.

10 eagleBehind it is a bear

9 bearSalmon

8 salmonAnd finally the seal followed by the orca.  All the creatures on the canoe rely on the salmon.

7 whale and sealAfter a great lunch put on by the band, served in a beautiful log shelter, Una put her regalia together.

12 una getting readyShe 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.

13 una with canoe

14 una portrait

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.

15 chris and unaBlankets of appreciation were given to Pam, who was very instrumental in helping to organize this, and Chief Roger Williams.

16 blanketsA very respected elder gave the blessing, first in her own language, then in English, in such a soft voice, few of us could hear.

17 blessing

18 blessing portraitChief Roger Williams was the first to sing.

18a roger williams songFollowed by the irripressible Gilbert.

19 gilbert singing

20 gilbert portrait 1

21 gilbert portrait 2Chris 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.

23 chris's songFinally Una Ann sang a soft prayer.

24 una anne's songThen 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.

26 launching

27 poisedThe crew carefully lifted it into the water.

28 lifting into water

29 ready to goBecause Jimmy and I did not have suitable footwear, the canoe was held steady while we climbed in from the shore.
30 holding canoe for meBecause I was away from home overnight, I had my dogs with me.  The crew decided they would have to come, too.

31 lifting dogsAnd we’re off!

32 we're off 1

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!

33 we're off 2I 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.

35 relaunching

36 turning around

37 2nd last canoeWhat an incredible experience!

38 last canoe