Reflections: Part 1
Reflecting Back on the Beginning of a Long Journey
This is how it begins — the journey of a lifetime, the journey of 17 Métis youth reconnecting to our ancestors, our communities, and the lands and waterways which formed us as a people. Twelve paddlers, three ground support, two communications assistants, joined by two settler allies guiding us along the way. A team has been formed of people from all different walks of life — different ages, different territories, different experiences, different strengths and weaknesses, who, just like our ancestors, have been drawn together because of the waters. This summer we will tour across Ontario, from Ottawa to Kenora, by canoeing the great waterways just as our voyageur ancestors did many moons ago. It will be a journey of growth, of challenge, of re-connection, and of thrills. It will be a journey of not only the struggles and triumphs of the paddlers and our supporting team, but of guides participating in reconciliation, of Métis communities sharing pride in our culture and heritage, and of the waterways which gave birth to our people. This is the story of the Métis Nation of Ontario’s Canoe Expedition 2017.
As our culture has emphasized for centuries, our communities are crucial to our individual well-being. So it was only appropriate that our first day of paddling began with a public launch in Ottawa. We were joined by family members, friends, our elders, senators, and general members from the public, parliament, and media who were interested in our journey. Before beginning our official opening ceremony, we had a few ceremonies of our own. A senator gifted Jesse, one of our guides ,with the sash, welcoming him to the Métis family as he joins us Métis youth on the route of our people. The canoe and paddles were smudged with sage and one of our elders and senators gifted each member with a tobacco bundle — an important reminder of our spiritual connection to the waters and our need to honour and care for them.
The team carried the canoe towards the water, dipping its bow in the Ottawa River at last. We shared a moment hand-in-hand in prayer, were given words of encouragement by our elders and senators, and shared some of our reasons for joining this expedition to our supporters. We gave our final hugs to our loved ones, and then set off to have our first few strokes in the canoe. In true voyageur fashion, we gave one final saluer (salute) to our supporters as our journey began westward. Once we turned the bend, we all took a moment to give tobacco and prayers to the water, and continued onward.
After a few kilometres of paddling, we took a pipe break (sans pipe) to speak with Scott, to lunch, and to take some photos in our historic clothing. Scott brought a variety of historic items from the fur trade era so that the crew members could have our very own historic photo shoot, amplified by the creative genius of one of our communications assistants, Alex. Once the break was over, we continued onward, all in our new MNO swag of polyester and modern fabrics –all but Tomas, of course. Tomas loves his historic clothing of cotton and corduroy.
It was a great first day of the expedition — a day full of sunshine, ceremony, and community. With a beginning like this, I can only imagine what the rest of the voyage will bring: what wonders we will see, what people we will meet, and what inner growth we will all achieve.
Written by Courtney Vaughn