By Tom Smith and Blake Cowan, Rotary Club of Tsawwassen, British Columbia, Canada
On a sunny day last September, Blake and I left our stresses behind and paddled Wave Warrior, a 39-foot-long ocean-going, fiberglass canoe designed by members of our local Indigenous community, on its inaugural journey.
Our Rotary club has been working towards Truth and Reconciliation with the local Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN) for the past several years. At last year’s Peacebuilder award ceremony, we honored two Indigenous members with this award. As one of the members, Nathan Wilson, was part of the Delta School District’s Indigenous Teaching Program, all the teachers attended.
I got to talking to one of the Delta teachers and learned they wanted to purchase a fiberglass canoe for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students to take on field trips together. The theme would be “Paddling Together.” As Community Service Director, I brought a proposal to the board, which was unanimously approved. The club applied for a district grant and bought the canoe. Blake and I then got to be part of the first paddling journey. Wave Warrior has a Rotary emblem on the stern.
The canoe will help non-Indigenous students learn more about canoe culture and connect them with Indigenous ways of knowing and being. The Delta Indigenous Education department has also been developing a mentorship program, Paddling Together, for students in grades five to twelve.
When you get in a canoe, you leave your stresses behind. You enjoy nature, enjoy your companions, and pull each other forward. Blake and I were honored to have been part of the inaugural journey. As we concentrated on paddling, we enjoyed the beautiful river with our fellow paddlers. There were 18 of us, plus our lead stern person. We started off out of sync (“caterpillar stroke”) but our First Nation stern leader, Nathan, soon had us all “Paddling Together.”
The canoe became symbolic to our Rotary club as a way of honoring the principles of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In President Blake’s year (2022-2023) we were just returning to full in-person meetings after COVID-19. Blake used the “paddling together” analogy many times throughout the year to help the members understand how we had to work together to get the momentum going again. This created a buzz in the room from energized and enthusiastic Rotarians. We took some innovative steps, like having a meeting hosted on the Tsawwassen First Nation lands. As a result of this and other outreach initiatives, we now have our first TFN member.
If this canoe helps all students paddle together, share their stories, share their history, and share their culture, we will get to Truth and Reconciliation. This initiative has been a superb example of the difference Rotarians can make in the world. It’s been one of the highlights of both my and Blake’s Rotary journeys.