Newly named and painted canoe takes to the waters

 WarriorWomanCanoe

It was clear from the beginning that Warrior Woman had a mind of her own.

Reborn from a cedar tree and painstakingly carved over four months in the centre of Pacheedaht First Nation, the canoe, or čupuc (pronounced chuh-PUTZ), revealed itself as female.

“Strong and independent, she slowed us when needed and let us move forward when ready. This makes her a Warrior Woman,” Pacheedaht member Sheila Jones wrote.

Her words were shared with a crowd of around 60 people gathered at Pacheedaht First Nation on National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21) for the blessing of the newly named and painted canoe, one of the final steps in a two-year partnership between the community and University of Victoria Assistant Professor Sarah Wright Cardinal, from the School of Child and Youth Care.

Cardinal’s work, funded through a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Partnership Development Grant, focuses on supporting the Pacheedaht First Nation in reclaiming Nuu-chah-nulth teachings to empower and strengthen the roles and responsibilities of Pacheedaht young men. It includes the first memorandum of understanding between UVic and the Pacheedaht First Nation.

Now, heaved onto the shores of the Gordon River, Warrior Woman waited to be pushed into the waters. Painted grey and black along the hull, with an orange-red interior, her bow depicts the three sisters from the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Makah Nuu-chah-nulth nations.

 Warrior woman canoe launch

At the ceremony, Makah Master Carver Micah McCarty praised the community’s strong representation in the project and described the partnership as “beneficial for us and our brothers and sisters in academia.”

“If we look at how we want the world to become, this is how we do it,” McCarty says. “This research was transformational. This is going to carry us forward into the future.”

The first seaworthy dugout canoe to be carved in the community for more than 20 years had her maiden voyage last October, still raw and unpainted. On this June day, community members, aged from Elders to children, climbed aboard again, laughing, cheering and singing as they paddled Warrior Woman on the river.

Cardinal, who is Cree from Treaty 8 territory, says the entire community had a chance to take part in the project, which included culture nights, a guest speakers’ series, the development of school curriculum materials, a documentary, and a soon-to-be published bilingual children’s book.

“It really has been babies to Elders,” Cardinal says.

  Warrior woman canoe ride

 Chief Jeff Jones says it was important to get younger generations involved in something that benefits the whole community.

“There's so much pride in how this canoe came together. There’s so much laughter and smiles and unity,” he says.

Sitting at the bow of Warrior Woman as she returned to shore, Elder Lillian Jones says she was glad young people learned about carving and gained other traditional knowledge. 

“I’m very proud that this brought us back into our sea world because we are sea people,” she says.

For Cardinal, watching children, such as Dakota Jones, smile ear-to-ear as they wait to paddle Warrior Woman, makes the endeavour worthwhile.

“Seeing the čupuc come to life, being reborn from a cedar tree to a canoe reminds us that we’re still here and our ancestral teachings matter today,” Cardinal says. "This is community wellness, providing meaningful roles for young men and for youth to know their language and culture matters. And being able to gather together in community in a good way.”