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War canoe cruises on Tyhee Lake

The Dze L K’ant war canoe is a symbol of the reclamation of culture and a vessel for healing.
The Dze L K’ant war canoe is a symbol of the reclamation of culture and a vessel for healing. (Grant Harris/The Interior News)

The Dze L K’ant war canoe took to the waters of Tyhee Lake on Sept. 27 as symbol of the reclamation of culture and a vessel for healing.

The beach at the provinical park was also filled with cultural tables and opportunities to learn more about Indigenous cultures.

School groups and other members of the community were able to take a ride on the canoe with the host and skipper Mel Bazil who is an alcohol and drug counselor with the Friendship Centre.

The Smithers and District Chamber of Commerce was one organization that took part in the day and manager Sheena Miller said it felt very empowering to be out on the water in the war canoe.

“It was very grounding experience,” she said. “Just being in the canoe, and really reflecting on our shared histories and our cultures. And sharing that experience with everybody, we’re all essentially people in one canoe, we’re all just taking an experience together. And it felt really, really connecting. It’s a very special opportunity to be to be in that position to go and to be there and have Mel Bazil telling us stories and what’s happened on the landscapes in the Bulkley Valley.”

She added the friendship centre does an amazing job of bringing the community together and offering opportunities to learn about reconciliation.

The Friendship Centre purchased the canoe in 2005 when they were invited to take part in a Rediscovery International Foundation canoe quest in 2006, Bazil explained.

Since then, the canoe has helped with so much more like cultural programming.

“Especially this week, because this country and the development of residential schools attempted to kill that in our people, they killed the culture, tried to kill the Indian in the child and save the worker,” he said.

“They wanted us to be available to serve national states that didn’t include coloured people.

“The way they handle indigenous people is placing children in residential schools. So that we would stop doing all the things that we love doing like pulling war canoe and drumming and singing with regalia and rattles and seeing children working along with us, you know, that wasn’t something that is nation-state wanted to see.

“It was better for the nation-state to put us out of the way and stop us from living the way we live. So much of the cultural programming we now offer is a form of decolonization. And it is also a form of healing. And it’s a message that we are still here.”

Bazil was happy with the turnout at Tyhee Lake, as well as the previous day’s activities at the Friendship Centre.

“I believe in reconciliation between locals,” he said.

“I don’t see it possible between our Indigenous communities and the government. The word broken down means a return to friendly relations. And this government did not have friendly relations for our people.

“And so what the government is actually performing is conciliatory, not reconciliatory. If there were friendly relations to begin with, it will be reconciliation. It was genocide.”

READ MORE: Nyïbegh: When a canoe is not just a canoe


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Marisca Bakker

About the Author: Marisca Bakker

Marisca was born and raised in Ontario and moved to Smithers almost ten years ago on a one-year contract.
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