We’ve been very fortunate at Smithers Secondary School to be able to provide an opportunity for our students to learn from some local Indigenous artists. A sizeable war canoe named “Nyībegh” meaning, “Stability on Water” in Witsuwit’en, needed refurbishing. So we were graced with the presence and incredible stories of some wonderful people as students learned about painting war canoes, and the accompanying paddles. Much gratitude to Mel Bazil, Smogelgem Warner Naziel and Guy Brown who came to provide instruction and guidance through the many aspects of the process.
One of the stories that Mel shared was of a challenging paddling occasion when they were struggling with the conditions, and as skipper, he needed a concerted effort to get everyone paddling in unison. So he used the word Nīwhtihk which means “Let’s All Pull Together”. It was an inspiring story that showed the power of working together, and they ended up gaining much strength and coordination to gain speed.
The entire project has been deeply meaningful on many levels. I got to help with numerous steps along the way and was pleased to be able to help facilitate this opportunity in our school. We finished with a paddle blessing/smudge ceremony. The canoe is continuing to be painted in Witset, and then it will go out on the water with the paddles later in the spring, and all who contributed to its painting will have a chance to paddle it. It’s been an honour to be involved and connect youth with their culture. We look forward to more such projects.