W̱SÁNEĆ youth on Achiever explore the Salish Sea

Raincoast’s education program and Indigenous youth explore W̱SÁNEĆ territory.

Peter Underwood steering Achiever with ocean and blue skies in the background

Peter Underwood steering the Achiever. Photo by Alex Harris.

This past October 19th, I finally got to go on an Achiever trip, something I had been looking forward to for weeks after connecting with Maureen Vo and planning trips with W̱SÁNEĆ youth. I helped set up two trips, and luckily I got to go on them both. Both days were clear, crisp and bright. 

On the first trip, we had three SENĆOŦEN language speakers with us, one who was a language teacher. They would tell us which bird was called what, as well as some place names and words here and there. It’s really important to me to include SENĆOŦEN when learning about the lands and waters because so many of the words are descriptive of what each thing or being does or how it came to be. Words like SḴELÁLṈEW̱, which means tree, translates to the bad people put away because of their origin story, which is too long for me to tell here. Other words like ḰEḰEYIȽĆ, which means arbutus, translates to the drinking tree because of how it has a taproot that reaches deep into the ground to find water to sip. Our language is a beautiful descriptive language that’s precious to us and not many of us are fortunate enough to have resources to learn. Many of our parents and grandparents weren’t allowed to learn as kids, which is why it’s so important to incorporate in trips and lessons like these. 

On the second day, we didn’t have anyone who could speak more than a few words of SENĆOŦEN, so I brought some of my language sheets and a copy of The Saltwater People, a book by Dave Elliott Sr. titled so because the W̱SÁNEĆ people rely on the ocean. In the book, there are maps and SENĆOŦEN place names, which was a big help. One of the girls had brought another W̱SÁNEĆ book about reefnet fishing. All the youth, except for me, were part of a reefnet fishing revitalization project over the summer, so they had a lot to say about their experiences. We even passed some of the routes they took by canoe and they would point out some things they saw and their highlights. 

Excitement built as we raised the sails since, for most or all of us, it was our first time sailing. The Raincoast team got us hands on with raising the sails and even learning how to steer while following the wind’s direction. When we were sailing everything was so calm and quiet, no engines running, no city noises, I was thinking about how it felt like a video game I played when I was a kid, The Windwaker, where part of it included sailing between little islands. The game was colourful, adventurous and cinematic, I didn’t realize that I could experience that right here in our homelands. 

Being out on the water was a big part of our grandparents’ youth and our ancestors’ way of life. I was constantly thinking of how it was their everyday life for parts of the year, but to me, it was a very special trip. I had a blast and would love to get out on the water more; I would definitely encourage any Indigenous youth to consider ways to stay connected to our lands and waters. 

Peter Underwood 
W̱SÁNEĆ youth
Raincoast is working with Peter and others to develop programming for W̱SÁNEĆ youth supported via Raincoast Salish Sea Emerging Stewards Program

Note: COVID-19
In order to ensure a safe trip, strict COVID-19 safety protocols were put into place to prevent the possible spread of the coronavirus.  This included thorough screening prior to boarding the vessel, mandatory masks inside the vessel and when safe physical distancing outside was not possible, and consistent hand-washing and sanitizing throughout our trip.