Earlier this month, 34 members from Katzie First Nation reserve in Pitt Meadows headed north to set off in an annual canoe journey.
For the past 19 years, Indigenous communities, police and public service agencies have come together to paddle, or pull, the waters of British Columbia in the annual Pulling Together Journey, aiming to repair relationships between the two cultures.
Emily-Ann Chick, Katzie band member, is the daughter of a woman who, since 2009, was passionately involved in the nine-day journey each year.
Gail Florence, 45, tragically passed away in June last year, and this year, Chick and other members in their community pulled together in honour of her.
Florence was trained as a skipper and she was the reason Katzie participated in the journey, year after year.
Every year, it was the one thing that she looked forward to the most, Chick said.
Chick, 25, said that it was an emotional journey this year but that it was “amazing.”
The Pulling Together Canoe Society began the Pulling Together Journey in 2001, inspired by an event that took place in 1998 called Vision Quest.
The RCMP and First Nations from the North coast paddled down from Prince Rupert to Victoria in a month-long journey to help restore their frayed relationship.
This year was hosted by the Sechelt First Nation and Tla’amin First Nation in Powell River, and ran from July 4 to July 12.
The event attracts more than 300 people each year from various communities, with roughly 20 canoes taking part.
Chick took part in her first journey when she was 15 years old and she said that it completely turned her life around.
“I was a little lost. I was going through a lot in my life and pulling together got me on to the right direction in life.”
In previous years, Florence took time to go around her community, spreading the word about the journey, getting sponsorships and constantly encouraging the youth to participate.
It was always her mother’s wish to see more youth get involved in the journey, and this year, their numbers more than doubled compared to recent years, many of them youth.
Chick said that over the years, the journey has made a lasting impression on her community.
“It has definitely brought a togetherness for all of us,” she said.
Along with journeying along the river as one unit, there were activities including a talent show, beach cleanups and a chance for each group to stand up and share their stories, songs or gifts.
Drew Blaney, culture and heritage manager for the Tla’amin Nation, said that they are grateful to have guests travel to their territory.
The last time the pulling was located in their territory was in 2012 and Blaney said that it benefited their youth highly.
“It really helped instil a lot of culture into our youth and a lot of pride into our youth,” he said.
The canoe is rooted deeply within First Nation culture, as it was the only mode of transportation before they had access to roads, Blaney said.
Each winter, the canoes are left ashore and as soon as spring hits, they are awakened with a ceremony and cedar brushing along with naming of the canoes so that they are ready to carry their occupants on to the water once again.
Rod Tulett, director of Pulling Together Canoe Society, said the response to the event over the years has been a memorable one and that every community that they have travelled through has supported it.
“This is actually reconciliation in action,” he said.
To him, it goes further than acknowledging the territory at the start of a meeting. It’s about building relationships and affiliations and learning about each other’s cultures.
The Katzie members sported T-shirts with a logo that Chick’s mother had tattooed on her, representing their nation and serving as a reminder of how they were all able to participate in this event.
It was because of her mother’s resilience and her belief in the magic behind the tradition that so many from her community have been exposed to the journey over the years.
“[It’s] just really important to recognise that this journey does something to a person. It really changes their outlook on life,” Chick said.