Members of the Squamish Nation, the District of Squamish and other guests were invited Thursday afternoon to witness the ceremonial blessing of the Xwu’nekw Canoe Shelter downtown.
The shelter was built in 2015 at Xwu’nekw Park on the Mamquam Blind Channel between Victoria and Main streets.
It will be used to house, restore and display historical First Nations canoes, and will be a place to educate the wider community about the importance of the canoes.
At the outset, Josh Joseph, a councillor for the Squamish Nation and MC for the event, spoke about the importance of the location to his family.
“Our Joseph family came from this land,” he said.
Before the blessing, there was a blanket ceremony involving First Nations women taking part in the blessing, as well as council and staff from the District of Squamish, one of the partners for the project. In this, the women conducting the blessing were adorned with ceremonial blankets, a sign, according to Joseph, that those taking part were protected while performing the blessing.
Shortly after, the women blessed the walls and the entrance of the shelter with cedar fronds and water, as male drummers sang a traditional song.
Joseph later spoke about the importance of the tradition.
“The cedar is very sacred to the Skwxwú7mesh people. It is used in every way…. It cleanses you, your spirit,” he said, adding that the cedar was used to “brush off” negative thoughts.
As far as the water, it came from Shannon Falls, according to Joseph.
“That water is like holy water to us,” he said.
Beyond the ceremony itself, Joseph spoke to the role of having witnesses for the ceremony to spread word back to their communities.
“Like today’s modern Facebook, that’s how we pass the word on,” he said.
Toward the end of the ceremony, several guests spoke about the significance of the event.
Chris Lewis, also a Squamish Nation councillor and spokesperson, reiterated Joseph’s point about the history of the place.
“It’s great to see our canoes coming back to these shores and onto these beaches,” he said. “I’m reminded of the power of this place.”
He also touched on the history of forcible removals and the creation of reserves, but also how this galvanized the Nation.
“That was the catalyst for us as a nation to come together,” he said. “It was through that struggle that we came together.”
The canoe shelter Lewis pointed to as a sign of how the Nation could work with partners like the District of Squamish to draw attention to their history at the site and toward reconciliation, calling it a small step in putting “our markers back on the land.”
Other dignitaries that spoke included MLA Jordan Sturdy and Mayor Patricia Heintzman, who highlighted many of the partners involved in the project, in particular the Downtown Business Improvement Association, which brought the idea forward, and several contractors involved with the construction of the shelter.
“This is a made-in-Squamish scenario,” she said, adding, “They all went above and beyond.”