As a way to foster reconciliation and develop cultural awareness, members from the Surrey RCMP and Surrey School District completed an educational journey through the traditional highway of British Columbia’s west coast.
Surrey RCMP Const. Gordon Van Leeuwen, who participated in the 10-day Pulling Together Canoe Journey, told Peace Arch News Friday that the event taught him a lot about Indigenous culture and the Semiahmoo First Nation people who hosted his team.
“I’ve learned their history here in school but it’s hard to explain their culture unless you get to experience it like we did on the canoe trip… Everywhere we went there was a lot of giving and thanks. Some nights we were up until 2 a.m. when we arrived to a place. Every group does a song and dance and a thank you, in terms of letting us land our canoes on their land.”
The journey started in Gibsons on July 5, when more than 300 Indigenous canoeists, RCMP officers, youth and members of the public set sail for the journey to Squamish, then back to Vanier Park in Vancouver.
Described by event organizers as the traditional highway of First Nations people, the groups spent up to six hours in the canoe per day, paddling to prepared camps along the route.
This year, Surrey RCMP entered its own canoe as part of the Semiahmoo First Nation community. Surrey officers shared the canoe with municipal staff, high school students from the Surrey School District WRAP program, and SSD’s Welcome Centre.
“We had a guy from Syria and a guy from Iran. It was kind of fun because they’re super hard working but sometimes they didn’t really understand what they were doing. They were really awesome,” Van Leeuwen said.
This year’s hosts included Squamish First Nation, West Vancouver Police and the Royal Canadian Navy.
“The feedback we received from all of the participants was excellent,” RCMP community services Supt. Shawn Gill said in a news release.
“It was great to see the healthy rapport being developed between our officers, staff, local youth and our Indigenous communities. This event is a long-standing tradition that has a lasting impact on strengthening relationships amongst all groups involved.”
Van Leeuwen hopes that he can return for next year’s event, and described the experience as something that’s “more than I can put into words.”