First Nations youth paddling into Penticton

Penticton Indian Band members among those on five-day voyage along Okanagan Lake

As they cruise along Okanagan Lake, canoes full of First Nations youth become united, not only in their paddle strokes, but with one another and the land around them.

“I realized how much you take for granted going through the everyday routine and you forget that connection that everyone has. It is all around us and simply beautiful,” said Nathan Paul, a 24-year-old Penticton Indian Band member who is one of the pullers on the canoes. “You just really notice the simple things and you build connections with people in the canoe and those continue on after, that is why we call it a canoe family.”

The canoes set out on Monday from Vernon and are scheduled to land at their destination in Penticton on Saturday. Working with traditional knowledge keepers, RCMP First Nations Police, restorative justice, youth intervention workers, ONA Fisheries and Penticton Search and Rescue, the PIB has been able to deliver this event. One that brings youth together with a physical challenge as well as touching their mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.

Along the five-day journey, youth are learning from cultural teachings and are encouraged to participate in drumming, singing and traditional games. Joining the journey are three canoe families from the West Coast and one from Upper Nicola. Paul said to pass the time on the water each canoe family does something different, his was singing traditional songs.

“Yesterday one canoe started singing Cover of the Rolling Stone by Dr. Hook,” laughed Paul. “It’s whatever makes it easier for us. They say when you sing it makes the canoe lighter.”

Kym Gouchie, the trip co-ordinator and PIB youth worker, said she hopes the event will become an annual one.

“The core of this is to teach from the water. It’s a physical place, it’s a spiritual place and a place that a lot of our youth never get to. It shows them what is possible and expands their boundary of their reservation or their urban centre where they are located,” said Gouchie.

Elders from PIB will be riding on the Cassabella Princess to greet the pullers as they float into Penticton on Saturday at the pier located on Okanagan Lake between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. PIB Chief Jonathan Kruger said it is great to see all the partnerships take place and everyone working together to support the youth in revitalizing cultural ways.

“I’m very proud of our community and all the hard work that they’ve done to pull this event together. We look forward to growing this journey for years to come,” said Kruger.