Elders lead canoe ceremony at Shoreline Community Middle School

Two canoes gifted by School District 61 will be used by school’s Big Canoe Program

Students at a Victoria middle school will be able to take to the water in two new canoes this spring after a blessing canoe ceremony on Friday.

The canoes, donated by the Indigenous Education Department of the Greater Victoria School District, will be used by Shoreline Community Middle School’s Big Canoe Program.

The Big Canoe Program is run by teacher Sonya McRae and Elder-in-Residence Gerri Sam, and involves taking each class from the school out on the water several times each year.

The canoes were prepared by community Elders in Shoreline Community Middle School’s gymnasium, in a ceremony that involved a cedar brushing, witnesses and a naming ceremony.

As a group of students looked on, as the canoes were given the lək̓ʷəŋən names ces (Sea Lion) and tcetceak’un (Mink), which stem from a community story.

Elder Gerri Sam says it’s important to have the canoes blessed by Songhees Elders and that it is a tradition to name canoes. 

“Each name that they give them has a story,” she says.

Photos by Katłįà (Catherine) Lafferty

“Early this morning we went to the cedar tree and we asked it: please can we take your limb to be a mat for the canoe when we bless it, to honour the heart of the canoe?,” says Mary Ann Thomas, the Elder leading the gifting ceremony. She is pictured here with her family as they enter Shoreline Community Middle School, walking east with the sunrise.
Matthew Thomas (left) helps his mother Mary Ann Thomas (right) bring in items used for the ceremony. Throughout the ceremony he reminds students not to fidget with the coins they have been given as it is disrespectful.
Roshawn Thomas helps carry the cedar basket for his grandmother Mary Ann Thomas.
A bundle of cedar is carefully shared among those involved in the process of preparing the canoes for their blessing.
Elder Mary Ann Thomas (forward) and Elder Gerri Sam carefully place cedar on the floor of the gym around the canoes.
Elder Mary Ann Thomas explains to the students the significance of the gifting ceremony and why it is important to place the paddles right side up to mark a safe journey for all those who travel in the canoe.
Elder Mary Ann Thomas (left, forward) and Elder Elmer George (left, back) are blanketed by Elder Gerri Sam and Pam Russ, Shoreline’s First Nations counsellor.
Shoreline Principal Gautam Khosla gives coins to Shelly Niemi, the district administrator of Indigenous education for School District 61. Niemi was one of the day’s witnesses, as per customary tradition in Songhees gifting ceremonies.
Arnold Joe (left) and Roshawn Thomas (right) assist with the gifting ceremony and stand by to learn protocol.
Elder Elmer George is the last fluent lək̓ʷəŋən speaker among Songhees Nation members, seen here preparing to bless the canoe. Leaders asked for that part of the ceremony, not to be captured on camera.
Elder Elmer George provided a story called “Myth of the Ghost Lover” in recognition of the naming ceremony.
Brenda Pohl, Inclusive Education Teacher and Aboriginal Support, recited a condensed version of Elder Elmer George’s story.
Sonya McRae, Big Canoe staff, provided blankets for the witnesses in thanks for them being a part of the ceremony.
Eagle down is lightly tossed over the canoes during the ceremonial blessing. They are now ready for the water.

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