From the ocean to the garden, Raven Dancer — a Coast Salish canoe — journeyed to Belmont Secondary School’s community garden Wednesday morning.
Raven Dancer (commonly referred to as her and she) started in 2002 as a cedar log and was initially created to give urban youth the chance to go on tribal journeys.
The canoe was a gift to Belmont Secondary School from Hulitan Family and Community Services.
The two groups and School District 62 have been working together for the past four years to sign a memorandum of understanding, signifying their partnership.
“Raven Dancer will be used as a teaching tool for young people, children and youth, that come into this district around the significance of cultural learning [and] cultural teachings of the canoe,” said Kendra Gage, executive director of Hulitan Family and Community Services.
On Wednesday morning, community members, First Nations elders and students gathered at Belmont Secondary School to sing traditional songs and watch the canoe make her journey to the school’s community garden.
“She was retired in 2014 as they didn’t feel she could do the ocean anymore,” Gage said. “But now she’s going to continue her journey here, probably for years and years to come, and this is where she will stay.”
The canoe is also a memorial to the late Chief Frank Nelson who gave the canoe its name.
Elder Alex Nelson — brother to Chief Frank Nelson — was at the ceremony and said he and his brother worked together to promote canoe gatherings in the area.
Nelson said he remembers seeing a canoe on television in 1986 during the World Exposition in Vancouver. After seeing that, he and his brother led a journey for 25 canoes to arrive in Victoria for the 1994 Commonwealth Games.
After that, Nelson said canoe gatherings began to grow.
“Our elders that were standing on the shoreline each time a canoe was entering, they would start to cry and say this is like the old days,” Nelson said. “It starts to give you the significance of what this means to our people.”
Nelson said the fact that Raven Dancer is being retired in a school is also significant and beautiful.
“We come from a dark era called the residential school era,” Nelson said. “And here we are where this beautiful canoe has a spirit prompting teachings and a way of life and it’s going to be housed in a school and will now be classified as its resident.”
Nelson said the canoe takes a negative past and signifies a positive future.
“What a story to tell,” Nelson said. “From a dark day to now a lighter day.”