A group of people of all ages came together by canoe in Yellowknife this week to connect over stories, music and food.
On Monday, Narwhal Northern Adventures and the Tree of Peace and Friendship Centre teamed up to organize the intergenerational event, where participants paddled in traditional 12-person voyageur canoes.
Grace Clark and her twin sister Sophie played fiddle during the ride as participants sang, cheered, and stamped their feet to the music. Elders also sang and drummed.
“It’s super fun,” said Grace, who comes from a Métis background and has been playing fiddle since she was seven years old. “It’s really nice to connect with everybody through music.”
The event aimed to use the canoes as vessels for community building, storytelling, reconciliation, and intergenerational conversations about the past, present, and future.
The project is part of Hazhǫ Ełexè Łets’eèzhe, which Mary Rose Sundberg from the Yellowknives Dene First Nation said means “we all grow together” or “we are all connected” in Wıılııdeh.
Participants paddled around Jolliffe Island into Back Bay and enjoyed fresh moose stew and bannock on the shore while listening intently to stories from Beatrice Bernhardt and her husband, Ernie.
The couple spoke of hardships in the residential school system, growing up disconnected from their culture, and finding their way in the world. Bernhardt said her grandmother used to tell her that when she got older, she would be a bridge.
“You will be the connector for our people, you will share information, you will pass on information, and you will give information to our people. On that bridge, you will meet many people, and they will keep giving information and sharing information,” she recalled her grandmother saying.
Hazhǫ Ełexè Łets’eèzhe focuses on blending Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge to raise awareness of multiple intelligences. It seeks to improve education, training and employment outcomes for local youth by addressing systemic inequities at the community level.
“Reconciliation and building these respectful relationships is really important. Connecting with each other in the canoe is one way to build these relationships,” said Christina Moore, an Indigenous youth worker with the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre.
The event was only four hours long, but for some, the connections made in that time will last much longer.
“I’ve met many of you now. I may not remember your names, but you have become a part of my life,” Bernhardt said “I will never forget what you shared with me today, so I thank all of you.”
There was such a large interest in the event that another paddling journey will be scheduled near the end of the summer. You can follow the Hazhǫ Ełexè Łets’eèzhe project here.