June 26th, 2016

Observations of a canoe guide and guide trainer.

Guiding tours by canoe helped shape my young adult life. In this position I developed leadership skills, public speaking skills, facilitation, and much more. Now, as a canoe guide trainer and co-owner of a cultural canoe tour company I get to share the things it taught me with others in an attempt to jump start the ability of employees in canoe guiding.

Being Nuuchahnulth in Nuuchahnulth territories and guiding traditional dugout canoe tours with a cultural focus lets a guide develop in a special way. In this position we can be stewards who are in line with our ancestors way of life on the land and water, going by canoe. Some traditional governance roles are beach-keepers, forest watchers and river-keepers. These are all about knowing what is going on in those environments with repeated visits in specific places. Our tours repeatedly go within a particular area, allowing the guide to observe what is there and what changes over time.

As with other First Nation groupings, Nuuchahnulth-ath (people) have been through about 100 years of residential school. While we have retained significant and powerful teachings; we find ourselves reaching for the parts that are missing from many years of cultural oppression and institutional genocide. Some things we may reach for without immediate success include missing knowledge such as, teachings and stories, stewardship lessons, words in our language. Working a job that requires cultural sharing, entails ongoing learning about that culture. It encourages the guide to seek knowledge when they come across a question they don’t know an answer too. Sometimes, nobody in our community has the knowledge anymore. The magical thing is that the source of our teachings are out in the elements among our animal brothers and sisters. Our cultures are of this landscape. By being out and about we can connect and learn again.

Developing relationships and conversations with visitors is key to development as a guide. There are people from many places that can sign up for such a tour. There are several seats in the canoe. The seats can be filled by people coming from very different places and world-views. Facilitating these groups you have to learn to read where people are at, in terms of their energy and knowledge and emotional state.

One of T’ashii’s newest guides, Tana, is from Heshquiaht First nation. She grew up away from her home territory of Heshquiaht which lies at the northern end of Clayoquot Sound. Now she is slowly migrating homewards. Canoe guiding this summer is part of her internship for the Aboriginal Eco-toursim Program that she is in. It is exciting and rewarding for me to see her developing as a guide. We have been co-guiding trips and picking berries together in time off; and all of it seems like part of her journey home, because home includes culture and territory.

tofino guide

A canoe guide has responsibilities that include safety officer, entertainer, educator, motivator and leader.Showing the way and sharing the teachings. Teaching sensitivity towards all living things includes the stories with morals like the story of the eagle and the slug. The stewardship around how Nuuchahnulth ancestors harvested foods, like Ma-i, how they tended berry bushes is all part of the sensitivity and The teaching of Iisaak (respect for all life). How the life of a whale was honoured pre and post hunt, is part of that same respect.

For some, guides, guiding can be the way that they find their voice of authority and leadership,

When I first started guiding I was shyer and didn’t know how to handle groups as well. Starting with a bit of co-guiding with the lead-guide and then having the steering paddle handed over, the learning process accelerated. Over time I had to learn through experience to facilitate groups of people on these journeys. Interpreting my world for them, weaving local knowledge, indigenous stewardship, history, stories, a paddle lesson and sometimes songs together into our journeys. It’s a pretty good gig!