Pulling Together paddles through Shuswap

Through the dip and pull of a paddle, friendships are born, understanding begins and community strengthens.

Through the dip and pull of a paddle, friendships are born, understanding begins and community strengthens.

On Thursday, the 13th annual Pulling Together Canoe Journey gathers at a Splatsin camp near Enderby because, this year, the power of the journey touches the waters of the Shuswap.

The first journey, with close to 100 canoes, took place in 2001 and went from Yale to Gibsons. It stopped at the many First Nations communities along the Fraser River and each joined in by paddling and sharing their culture and traditional foods.

“For some of the communities it was the first time in more than a hundred years that canoes were seen in their territory,” explains an excerpt from the Pulling Together website. “For many that participated in the inaugural Pulling Together journey, it was the first time they had the opportunity to experience First Nations culture…”

That first year the organizing agency was the RCMP, with the realization it would benefit the police in their dealings with First Nations, and vice versa. Over the years the journey has expanded its reach, and now includes Fisheries and Oceans, the navy, conservation, municipalities and more.

“It’s a cultural exchange,” says Jolene Andrews, president of the Pulling Together Canoe Society. “It’s an opportunity to sit outside the institutions and be in a community together. We get outside our roles and learn a lot.”

This year’s journey involves five local bands: Adams Lake, Neskonlith, Splats’in, Little Shuswap and   Kamloops.

“This year we’re seeing five canoes in the communities we’re going to,” says Andrews. “They haven’t been practising their canoe traditions for a number of decades. To have that return to their communities and be a part of that is a real honour.”

A pleased Chief Nelson Leon of the Adams Lake Indian Band confirms his band has acquired a 14-seat canoe and has been training for the journey.

Andrea Stelter with the Little Shuswap Band is helping organize the event. She said Secwepemc – or Shuswap – elders named this canoe journey, Awakening the Spirit, because “it’s an opportunity to bring water back, via the canoe, to the people.”

Others join the journey as well and, at last count, about 20 10- to 20-person canoes were registered. People are welcome to come and cheer on the paddlers, or accompany them in their own canoes for stretches of the journey.

Including support crews, about 500 people will be making their way from Mara Lake Provincial Park all the way to Kamloops. Paddlers arrive on Thursday and the paddling journey begins Saturday, July 27. It finishes Friday, Aug. 2.

And they’ll all be getting fed, as Sgt. Wally Argent of the Vancouver Police knows well. Along with being an organizer, he’s a cook’s assistant – and this will be his 10th year on the journey.

He is witness to its benefits.

“It changes on both sides – that’s what it’s all about. The more people understand and get to know each other, that’s how you make change.”

Overall, Argent loves the experience.

“There’s an atmosphere there. To me, it’s like coming home.”

To learn more, go to ‘pullingtogether.ca.’