J. Rice: This spring, preschoolers to elders from the North Coast area participated in a creative cultural community–building project called Paddle for Wellness. Hundreds of paddles were personalized as part of a cultural program led by the Prince Rupert Friendship House and our local canoe guru and community leader Peter Loy.
Paddle for Wellness was an educational, hands-on program engaging the Prince Rupert Friendship House staff, their clients and community members in a number of culturally-based programs. As part of the 2015 Friendship House Paddle for Wellness, North Coast residents got to experience painting their own canoe paddles and then had them blessed by First Nations elders in a historic ceremony.
After showcasing them during the Prince Rupert annual Seafest parade, many were used in the first-ever canoe tug-of-war games held in the Prince Rupert Harbour. Many people painted their First Nations family crests and other creative designs.
For weeks the Friendship House opened its doors to anyone who wanted to drop in and work on a paddle. It did not matter if you were First Nations or not. The program was open to everyone. We saw people from all backgrounds and ages participating. It was truly a cross-cultural, community-building activity.
Brody Edgars, who is in the Friendship House youth program, started working on his paddle in May, and said that although he’s always enjoyed doing art, he never worked on a project like this before. He says: “Projects like this are important because they help you learn about your culture.”
This project also helped us learn about each other’s culture. We had Haida, Tsimshian, Nisga’a and First Nations people up and down the coast and up the Skeena River participating. There were many non-aboriginal children, youth and adults also painting paddles and participating in the blessing ceremony.
I was surprised and honoured to know that a paddle had been painted for me and was presented to me at the blessing ceremony. I’d like to thank the Prince Rupert Friendship House and Peter Loy for initiating the Paddle for Wellness program. It is these types of programs that will indeed lead us to wellness.