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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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B.C.'s Lt. Gov. Carving First Nations Canoe
by Rob Shaw - Victoria (BC) Times Colonist
credits: photos by Bruce Stotesbury - Victoria (BC) Times Colonist
Cedar block could have been carved centuries ago

Inside a nondescript garage in the shadow of the Government House mansion, Steven Point is carving out a small piece of B.C. history.

The province's 28th lieutenant-governor has almost finished transforming an ancient hunk of red cedar into a four-metre-long handmade inland river canoe.

He's hoping to launch it in a local stream later this month and then donate it back to the people of B.C., as a rare example of an often-overlooked type of First Nations canoe.

The launch ceremony will mark the culmination of hundreds of hours of work since Point, 58, found the old block of cedar while walking on Ross Bay beach last November.

The ends of the log had already been shaped into points and it looked like someone had tried to carve it, said Point. His brother, an experienced carver, pegged the wood at between 500 and 800 years old, meaning the work could have started before Christopher Columbus discovered the so-called New World.

Point, B.C.'s first aboriginal lieutenant-governor, who has served as chief of the Skowkale First Nation and tribal chairman of the Sto:lo Nation, said he thinks he discovered the log for a reason.

"What I believe is that you're guided, and when things come in and out of your life you should pay attention, because something good could happen," he said.

"This log had drifted into my life. I decided to finish the canoe from that carver, whoever he was."

Point had the log hauled from the beach to a garage behind Government House where he used to park his truck.

He began chipping away at the project during evenings, despite having never carved a canoe. Then a woman on staff at Government House suggested Point show the work to her friend -- prolific and celebrated First Nations master carver Tony Hunt Sr.

Hunt, whose totem poles are known throughout the world and who has carved seafaring canoes, volunteered his time to mentor Point.

It's a unique project, said Hunt, because there are few examples of inland river hunting canoes on public display. Most canoes in B.C. museums were used on the ocean, he said. "I've never seen one before, so that's interesting," said Hunt.

A creature has emerged from the wood through late-night carving sessions. It has the shovel nose, eyes, scales and tail of the legendary monster in Chilliwack's Cultus Lake, which aboriginal peoples called Slahkum, said Point. The sides of the canoe are engraved with the crest of Point's father.

"It now tells a complete story," said Hunt.

First Nations people would have used this type of canoe to hunt in lakes and streams by lighting a fire in a pit at the bow, hiding behind a hunting blind, and spearing fish that were attracted to the flame, said Point.

The lieutenant-governor, who was appointed in 2007 after serving as a provincial court judge, said he intends to try the hunting method during the canoe's launch ceremony.

Aside from the novelty of the carving, Point said he hopes British Columbians see a larger message in the work. "The whole world is kind of like a canoe travelling and we're all paddling in this thing, and if we're going to get along, if we're going to make progress, if we're going to solve our problems, we've got to start paddling together," said Point.

He chose to name the canoe Shxwtitöstel, which means a safe place to cross the river. It represents the idea of a safe place for reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, said Point.

When finished, the canoe will be displayed at Government House and then donated to a museum.

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