photo by Tanner Quanstrom In one of the first stages of canoe-building, the bark is chipped away from a cottowood tree.

Tradition carved into Little Shuswap canoes

A once-noble cottonwood tree continues life in the form of two canoes.

For the past 60 years, no member of the Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band has cut down a tree for the purpose of making a canoe.

That changed on a cold January day when 50 to 60 people showed up at a tree ceremony where a tall and broad cottonwood on reserve land in Scotch Creek was chosen.

“It was cold; a few elders smudged and prayed for the tree and Ernie Phillip sang,” says Tanner Quanstrom, First Nations representative at the Cultural Centre at Quaaout Lodge. “Then someone put prayer into the tobacco and prayed for the tree, saying we need your help in making canoe. After the prayer, he dropped the tobacco by the base of the tree.”

Quanstrom says natives do the same thing for gathering berries or medicines, praying to Kalkukpe7, the Great Creator.

“He placed everything we see here, but the person who created the circle of life and gave order was Sklep, also known as Coyote,” he says.

The tree was left in place for about 10 days then shipped to Quaaout Lodge by a logging truck on Feb. 6.

Led by carver Frank Marchand of the Okanagan Nation, work began on the cottonwood, a tree commonly used by the

Secwepemc people because it is lighter and there are fewer knots to contend with.

The canoes were built in two different styles. The first one is 35 feet in length and is a contemporary canoe Marchand carved with a chainsaw.

The second canoe is 15 ft. 7 inches and was built using traditional skills, an axe and an adze – no power tools.

A video called 1000 Hands was made to follow the construction in which school groups, Quaaout Lodge guests, Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band members and more had a part by making a cut with the adze.

The canoes were put into the water on Aboriginal Day on June 21 and were on the water for 20 minutes, says Quanstrom.

“That whole day was a big thing for us,” he says. “We had 200 guests, it was a a great turnout.”

The exterior of the canoes are finished but the insides must dry out before the interiors can be finished.

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photo by Tanner Quanstrom The shape of a canoe can be seen in the tree trunk.

photo by Tanner Quanstrom A section of a cottonwood tree is hewn with an ax.

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