Each year the Geronimo Canoe Club hosts numerous communities for two days of war canoe racing at the popular Water Festival. NIȽ TU,O has been funding the children’s portion of these races for many years, as a fun way to build confidence, healthy habits, and connection to community and culture.

This year’s Geronimo Canoe Club Water Festival took place in early August and was extremely well attended. Approximately 500 people gathered from communities up island and on the mainland for two days of competition, connection and celebration. Over 130 kids competed over both days, some as young as 5, and all the way up to 18 years old.

Carrying on Important Cultural Traditions 

The GCC was started by the late Ivan Morris and late Madeline Morris (Henry) of the Tsartlip First Nation in 1974 because they wanted to get their kids interested in war canoe racing. Now, their grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and even great-great-grandchildren participate.

As a cultural tradition, it brings together many generations to share knowledge and inspire one another. The GCC’s prevalence in the community is especially important as over the years, the amount of canoe clubs in the area has shifted. At one point between the Saanich areas, there were nine community war canoe racing clubs. Now, there are only two clubs in the southern area, the GCC and Lady Esther, and about three further up Vancouver Island.

While interest in war canoe racing has wavered in other communities, the GCC is determined to continue hosting the annual Water Festival to keep an integral part of Coast Salish culture alive.

Marla Sampson, a representative for the Geronimo Canoe club shares “I would hope it gives kids the initiative to look at this sport as a part of our history and our culture, that they could grasp that and hang on to it. We don’t want this part of our culture and tradition to die out.”

Connecting Children to Community & Self

The children’s races over the Water Festival weekend were an exuberant and exciting affair, where no child over the age of 5 was left out and over 100 competed hard to win cash prizes, sponsored by NIȽ TU,O “We want to make sure they know they are a part of the community, no matter where they came from or who they’re with, if they want to paddle, they got to paddle.” Sampson continues.

War canoe racing at the Water Festival not only promotes Coast Salish culture, but it  also brings kids together to learn life skills, develop healthy habits and boost their self esteem. “I think racing really can show you what you’re capable of” adds Sampson. “The kids learn how to work together and paddle in unison, paying attention to the people in front and behind them and keeping their paddling in time with the others.”

In addition to its culturally enriching and team-building aspects, being outside and on the water can be a rejuvenating and healing experience for youth. Sakora Morris, a youth paddler representing Canada in the women’s sprints at the international level, says “I think it’s therapy to me. Salt water therapy.”

War Canoe Paddlers Garner International Acclaim

For youth who paddle, the sport also holds the opportunity to compete in national, or even international championships. The GCC team is now internationally acclaimed as the team has won 3 Canadian Outrigger Championships and also competed in the 2019 World Distance Championships in Australia.

One of the GCC team members Jasper Morris,  was ranked as the 6th fastest paddler in the world in 2019 at the age of 16 years old. Jasper just won a gold medal in a worldwide competition (VAA IVF World Sprints championships) this summer.

The GCC team that joined Jasper in the UK to participate in the VAA IVF World Sprints included his father Len Jr. Morris, sister Sakora Morris, Rose Seward, Jennea Seward, and Joseph Seward (the 3rd).

Participating with family members makes the experience even more worthwhile, as a bonding activity that ensure everyone is involved. When asked about his qualifying times prior to going to the UK, Jasper responded humbly, “I don’t keep track. The best part about paddling for me is family.”

As Jasper, Sakora and many other youth have shown, participating in war canoe races models healthy behavior, values and teaches important values like hard work, cooperation, healthy competition, and exercise.

NIȽ TU,O is proud to be an ongoing contributor to the GCC hosted youth war canoe races and the ongoing positive supports available for Coast Salish youth.