August 23, 2023 | Leg 6, Day 16

August 23, 2023 | Leg 6, Day 16.
Victoria, B.C.

Our trees of life connected us. Cedar to the Songhees people and niu (coconut) to the Pasifika peoples. Melissa from the Songhees Nation with her beaming smile greeted me as she commented on my niu papale. It kicked off our cultural exchange as she shared the many uses of cedar, including weaving hats like the one she wore today.

Melissa and her aunt Cecelia Dick guided us through the lens of their ancestors to see how these lands and waters are traditionally used. We are on Whu-sei-kum, the land of the mud, where the Songhees people gathered shellfish when the tide receded. We learned of their ocean, river and war canoes and the way they moved with their food sources. The area where we stood is their winter home, before packing up their houses that slotted together with planks of cedar and paddled away to their summer location.

The boardwalk above Hōkūleʻa is lined with art from Butch Dick, pictures of their regalia, canoes and homes, along with their present day designated places for Indigenous practices and artists to share their works. We walked up to the Royal British Colombia Museum where we saw exhibits of their canoes and large wooden carvings.

By divine timing, we ran into Crystal and her co-workers who graciously welcomed us into the Longhouse at the museum, where Crystal stewards that space. We learned of its many uses in the past and present. Joe Martin joined our group and spoke to us of his people Nuu-Chah-Nulth and Tla-o-qui-aht. He helped us understand the connections and uses of the Longhouse and connected his work as a canoe carver with what we are doing.

Upon returning to Hōkūleʻa we got to share our stories of connection with hundreds of beautiful people who made time for us today. Several of our crew members joined the Latitude 48 Paddling hui who took us through the waterways, into the ocean and around Hōkūleʻa. I shared a canoe with Uncle Bruce and 4 other paddlers as we moved in unison. I followed Uncle Bruce’s rhythm, as I was in seat 5 and he was in seat 3. There were moments when each stroke I took was exactly in the wake Uncle Bruce created. I couldn’t help but smile at the kaona (the layered meaning) behind that moment of paddling in the wake of my teacher.

We paddled alongside a site that, we learned in the morning, was ancestrally used in ceremony when boys transitioned into manhood. Their elders told them to “”Be strong like the water.”” That statement couldn’t be truer for any of us today. We ended our night with a delicious meal of curry as we were serenaded by bagpipes watching the rising moon. 🌙

-Brittnay Kamai