Carver Curtis Henry of Pauquachin First Nation (in blue) explains how to lift a canoe he built with the help of students from Kelset Elementary School. (Kristyn Anthony/News staff)

North Saanich students, Pauquachin Nation carver launch canoe built together

Carver Curtis Henry: “It’s not just about building canoes. It’s about teaching our culture.”

A project more than a year in the making came to fruition Wednesday morning on the beaches of Pauquachin First Nation.

Working together with Pauquachin carver Curtis Henry, students of Kelset Elementary in North Saanich unveiled a canoe they helped build and watched as it set sail for the first time in local waters.

Built from a cedar tree chosen from the land, in what is also known as North Saanich, the snewel (canoe) took its inaugural voyage from the beach after being lifted to the shore by the students themselves.

Henry shared his skills and wisdom – handed down from his grandfather, also a snewel carver – in a similar project with Bayside Middle School in 2015.

Bringing the next generation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous learners together, he said, is “the most important thing” because “everybody has gifts to share.”

“It’s not just about building canoes,” he said. “It’s about teaching our culture.”

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The project was made possible by a grant secured by the Pauquachin Nation who reached out to School District 63 to work collaboratively.

A project like this wouldn’t have been possible 100 years ago, said Robin Dupree, an Indigenous support teacher at Kelset.

“Now in 2018 our education system is changing. We have strong relationships building with our local First Nations,” Dupree said. “This is an incredible learning opportunity.”

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Each of the 400 students who participated travelled to Pauquachin on field trips to engage in storytelling and other cultural teachings. The students were present as the tree was chosen and felled and went on to sand and varnish it.

“We are Kelset Killer Whales,” Dupree explained. “A lot of the children remembered the story of the Thunderbird, and how there is a connection between the Killer Whale and the Thunderbird.”

To honour what they learned, the students chose a Sencoten name for the canoe that would carry on that tradition – the Kelset Thunderbird.

“This is an amazing,” she said, “because these are activities that are far and few between.”


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