Saanich Peninsula First Nation students return to the water

First Nations students were able to return to the water in the launch of their two canoes.

Students of the WSANEC Leadership Secondary School gathered Monday to launch the canoes they built from the Tsartlip First Nation boat ramp.

First Nations students were able to return to the water in the launch of their two canoes.

Students, teachers, volunteers and members of the community came out to celebrate the moment at the Tsartlip boat ramp on Monday.

“It’s a connection with the traditional knowledge that the community is trying to pass onto the younger generation,” said  Principal of the WSANEC Leadership Secondary School (WLSS) Joe Karmel.

Seven students, under the guidance of boat builder Laurie Armstrong, committed to building the two canoes every Friday since January. Armstrong said for a lot of these kids, it was the first time they’d ever had a power tool in their hands.

“It’s not the kids watching me build the boat, it’s the kids (who) built the boat,” he said.

Armstrong who retired a couple of years ago said he always wanted to do something for First Nations and pitched the project to WLSS and went out to the community asking people to contribute.

Slegg Lumber donated materials, Armstrong said. Peninsula Co-op gave $1,000 for the two canoes. West Wind Hardwood donated lumber and Payne’s Marine Supply Group donated all the paint and epoxy.

“It’s fantastic to see the significance of the canoes to the First Nations,” Armstrong said as he watched the students launch the canoes into the water.

“This is really neat to see…”

Karmel said it’s part of the new curriculum redesign for the province in trying to seamlessly bring aboriginal perspectives and traditional First Nations principles into the lessons.

WLSS language teacher John Elliott said it’s nice that the kids are returning to the salt water as the people of the First Nations have been driven away from it for so long.

Elliott also helped in building the paddles for the canoes, as well as eagle head and thunderbird figurines for the prow of each canoe.

“They wanted to name the canoes,” he said, adding that the kids decided to name one eagle and the other, thunderbird.

Before the canoes were launched, Tsartlip elder Fred Charlie gave the canoes a blessing.

The blessing, Elliott said is their way of celebrating the completion of a big job, along with a hopeful blessing that the canoes will always be safe when the kids are on the water.

Karmel said the carving, painting and all of the different components that went into the building of the two canoes are spread throughout the students’ curriculum, meeting a number of different goals at once.

Next year, he said, they will have a new course called community, culture and the environment — which brings First Nations traditions into the science and social studies program.