Westbank First Nation members lift the canoe into the water for the first time. Photo by Chehala Leonard.

Westbank First Nation dips hand-carved canoe into sacred lake

Led by master carver Frank Marchand, building the canoe was part of bringing back canoe culture to the community.

As Westbank First Nation members gathered at kłlilx’w (Spotted Lake), which is a sacred lake located just Northwest of Osoyoos, B.C., the women gathered and began their ceremonial drumming. 

This was part of a blessing ceremony for a hand-carved canoe that was taken into the lake for the first time on Sept. 1, 2020. 

Master carver Frank Marchand and his apprentice William Poitras spent the summer working with Westbank First Nation youth, in a continued effort to bring canoe culture back to the schools. 

“I took it upon myself to try and get into the schools. The last few years has been a whirlwind of canoes. I think it’s a very good creative outlet for the kids,” Marchand says.

Westbank First Nation members sang a ceremonial song during the canoe ceremony. Photo by Chehala Leonard.

The entire process of building it from a log to a canoe took 21-days. Standing at the edge of the sacred water of Spotted Lake, Marchand says, “it feels beautiful actually.”

The lake is protected as a cultural heritage site, and is a sacred medicine lake for Okanagan/Syilx Peoples. The men lifted the canoe off of the trailer and into the sacred waters.

Marchand explains the significance of the canoe ceremony is one of the final stages of canoe culture. “This dipping of our canoe into the lake is to acknowledge… the sacredness of the lake.”

Sharing pride

Marchand believes it’s important to teach youth cultural pride through canoe building. 

“It shows them how to work. It shows them what, you know, it gives them some pride and self-pride on the canoe building,” Marchand says. “As long as the kids have fun, we’re doing good.”

For Justin Derickson, who is one of the founding members of the WFN youth council he says that, “It’s a very proud moment to be Sqilxw, to be Indigenous.”

Derickson, Saige Werstuik, and Nicole Werstuik all worked with WFN youth this summer to help build the canoe with Marchand and Poitras. 

For Saige Werstuick she says she feels “very full of good medicine.” 

“This is the first time ever getting to witness something like this. So it’s like amazing getting to see another part of my culture and getting to learn some new medicine and traditions,” she says.

While none of the youth could attend the canoe dipping ceremony, due to logistics Werstuick explains that the youth, “Every single time they were just always so excited to get to work on the canoe.”

Westbank First Nation members lift canoe into kłlilx’w (Spotted Lake) during the canoe ceremony. Photo by Chehala Leonard.

WFN Councillor Jordan Coble attended the canoe ceremony to give a blessing, and afterward he explained that, “To gather on our sacred territory is to reintroduce ourselves and remind ourselves that this is what we’re here for, is to look after the land so that it can look after us.” 

While the journey of building the canoe which was named kwkeyuma? Snk’lip, meaning ‘little coyote’, wraps ups Marchand says this ceremony, “Is it also to bless our canoes so it’s got a safe journey and safe travel to with the youth and within the Nation.”