CFB Esquimalt marks Indigenous Awareness Week with a ceremonial canoe trip

Indigenous Awareness Week

Members of the Defence team paddle in the RCN canoe from Work Point to Behrens Island, May 24. The short canoe trip kicked off Indigenous Awareness Week at CFB Esquimalt and a celebration of its theme “We are all in the same canoe, under the same sun.” Photo: Peter Mallett, Lookout Newspaper.

Peter Mallett 
Staff Writer

“We are all in the same canoe, under the same sun” was the theme for Canadian Armed Forces Indigenous Awareness Week celebrations at CFB Esquimalt last week.

The calm waters of Victoria harbour welcomed 15 paddlers from all walks of life on the sunny morning of May 24 as they made their way around Berens Island in a canoe designed for the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).

Topping the list of VIP paddlers was Capt(N) Jeff Hutchinson, Base Commander, and Major General Michel-Henry St. Louis, Acting Commander of the Canadian Army.

The Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group (DAAG) co-chair Shae Clutesi says the event built a special bond between participants.

“Everyone in a canoe works as a team, so you need to build that trust and camaraderie with each other to get the canoe to perform properly. Building this trust makes for a very significant impact in the way the group can feel as one,” she says.

Clutesi, who works as a Client Service Provider for the Base Executive Branch, says the DAAG plans to host more events that feature the RCN canoe. After its visit to Work Point, the canoe was put on display at the Fleet Maintenance Facility Cape Breton and the Naden Athletic Centre.

The ceremony at Work Point this week featured a drumming ceremony performed by paddler and DAAG member Petty Officer First Class Marielle Audet of the Naden Band. Chief Petty Officer Second Class Patrick Stephens, the Indigenous Advisor to the Chaplain General, brought the Canadian Armed Forces Eagle Staff, which was displayed prominently at the canoe’s bow for the entire trip.

This is not the first time the ceremonial canoe was moved from its permanent home at Naval Reserve (NAVRES) unit HMCS Discovery in Vancouver. It was used at the annual “Pulling Together” weekend canoe voyage in Powell River in 2019.

The RCN canoe is designed after those used by First Nations along the west coast. The 11-metre canoe seats 18 passengers and is made of fiberglass. It was built by Western Canoeing Manufacturing Inc., of Abbotsford, B.C.

Indigenous Awareness Week

Petty Officer First Class Marielle Audet performs a traditional drumming ceremony and song to commence. Photo: Peter Mallett, Lookout Newspaper.

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