The Okanagan Nation Salmon Feast is officially underway with a group of canoes setting out from Skaha Marina in Penticton for the meet-up point at Okanagan Falls on Sept. 15.
The canoes and paddlers will travel most of the day to make it to the festival grounds. The canoe trip is meant to honour the sacredness of the river and the responsibility we have to look after it.
The event is especially significant for band members in the Okanagan because they of the difficulty it takes to make traditional dugout canoes.
“These implements have been made also impossible for us to create because of logging practices and the fact that our trees aren’t allowed to grow big enough anymore to accommodate the size of a canoe,” said Mariel Belanger, one of the paddlers who hales from Vernon.
Belanger’s canoe is handmade and the skin is made out of ballistic nylon and is semi-opaque. She says the experience of guiding it in the river is unlike what you’d get in a mass-produced canoe.
“It’s very enduring – it reminds us that we have to be delicate. Unfortunately, with fibreglass canoes, it teaches us that we can be rough on the water, when we need to remember that it has a spirit of its own,” said Belanger. “So this framework reminds us how to be delicate and sensitive to the area.”
A group of youth from the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) became involved in canoeing and participating in the Salmon Feast when they procured a community canoe, dubbed “Mother Grizzly”, in 2013.
“This is part of our youth program with the OIB, so when our youth coordinator came to us, he wanted to bring (the canoe program) to our community,” said Sonya Jansen, with the OIB. “So that’s how we ended up getting our canoe.”
Jansen said they can fit up to 13 people in “Mother Grizzly” and their participation is a way to reconnect with nature.
“It’s about connecting to the land and the water, and being a part of nationhood,” said Jansen. “It’s something we’ve done for thousands of years and we want to continue that legacy.”
One group of paddlers was even able to make the trek in a traditional, handmade dugout canoe. Made out of cottonwood, this type of canoe is heavier than those made today out of fibreglass, but is just as easy to steer.
The Salmon Feast will wrap up on Sept. 16 with a feast at noon and ceremony and giveaway following at 1:30 p.m.
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Jordyn Thomson | Reporter
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