NIȽ TU,O Brings Its Stunning Dugout Canoe Home

On March 17th, NIȽ TU,O Child and Family Services brought their newly finished dugout cedar canoe from Stz’uminus (Kulleet Bay) to its home in Tsawout.

(shown above, Luke Marson standing in front of the newly finished Canoe)

The completion of this traditional Coast Salish dugout canoe has been the product of over a year and a half of work by master carver Luke Marson. 

The finely painted canoe depicts different parts of the traditional W̱SÁNEĆ Great Flood Story including The Raven, The Wolf and The Frog.  The canoe can accommodate eleven paddlers who, Luke explained, “Work together, just like a community.” 

Along the way, Luke has had some helping hands: from the children attending NIȽ TU,O’s culture camps, to community members participating in blessing the log, to NIȽ TU,O staff who helped lift the enormous canoe onto the transportation trailer for its descent down Malahat mountain.

Upon its arrival in Tsawout, the canoe will be used in NIȽ TU,O’s many cultural programs designed to keep Coast Salish youth connected to their culture. Prior to its first time soaking in the Salish sea, the canoe will first be blessed in ceremony.

Canoe build represents a whole way of life

The canoe is more than an incredible work of art. Luke Marson explains, that building the canoe has been a way to bring everyone together, because the process represents “a whole way of life that we used to have a long time ago. In our culture, the canoe is considered a living family member.” 

(NIȽ TU,O staff members working together to move the canoe onto a trailer)

Vanessa Boylan, a family support worker and cultural programming specialist at NIȽ TU,O, described how the journey started at Nitinat, where they brought children participating in the Culture Camps to attend the blessing of the log, well before she became the canoe. 

Boylan continues, “It’s been really nice to bring the kids up to Luke’s carving shed throughout the year. The kids were a big part of the process, from digging it out, hollowing it out, and then bringing it into Luke’s shop.The kids are so strong and have so much energy. One of the youth actually nicknamed the canoe, “Big Rave.”’ Boylan expressed her hope that the canoe will help the kids participating in Culture Camps to join in Tribal Journeys this coming summer, and also in future years. 

Tribal Journeys is usually a yearly canoe based journey with other Coast Salish canoe families that includes numerous stops with other Coast Salish communities. 

Luke shared excitement about the event, “Tribal Journeys is a 10-day camping trip with tons of culture.” After having been canceled for three years due to COVID, Luke shares “I’m excited to see if there are any other new canoes. The last time I went, there were 100 canoes and about 50,000 people, making it an absolutely massive and incredible event. This particular canoe journey, he says, is “expected to take around ten days, with eight stops from Tsawout to Muckleshoot.” 

(Moments before the big move)

Canoe project has helped Coast Salish kids connect to community and culture

The launch of the canoe will be a momentous occasion for the community and especially the youth who have been such a part of the process. 

Luke shares, “I really love the fact it’s a youth engagement program because it gets the youth involved in seeing how our people would’ve lived a long time ago and how we take this tree, one of our sacred ancestors, and we turn it into a canoe,” Luke continued, “It gives them kind of a connection to the past, but not only in the past, to family. It really is used as a bridge for the family unit to unite.” 

(Shown above: The canoe at it’s new home in Tsawout)

The process of creating this canoe, and its homecoming, has been a milestone experience for the NILTU,O community. “The canoe not only represents the past but also serves as a bridge for the community to come together and strengthen their family unit.” Luke stated, “it will be exciting to see how the youth will be involved in this cultural activity and connection to their ancestors.”

This project is just one of many NIȽ TU,O initiatives designed to keep Coast Salish children connected to community and culture.

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