On September 10 and 11, 2022, the Four Fires Festival Canoe Races were held at Concord Community Park along False Creek in downtown Vancouver. This is the first time in over a century that the canoe race has taken place.
The event was hosted by Canoe Cultures, an Indigenous non-profit organization that focuses on preserving the traditional art of canoe building. The organization has played an important role in bringing together clubs from more than twelve countries to participate in the festival. Mike Billy Sr., festival co-organizer and member of Canoe Cultures, proudly said in a press release, “We are happy to be back.
Canoe races are traditionally held on summer weekends. In an interview with the Vancouver SunMike Billy Jr. said it’s a tradition to spray water over the heads of canoes when summer begins to “wake up”. [the canoes] and let them know it’s time to go. It’s great that we’re going to do this right downtown. It shows people that we are still here, that we are still practicing our culture.
During the festival, teams of different age and skill categories participated in a variety of activities ranging from water sports to visual and performing arts to culinary disciplines. An average of twenty-five races were held per day.
Performances by George Leach, Alex Wells, the Wild Moccasin Dancers, DJ Kookum and Pat Calihou Band, among others, entertained the crowd.
The canoe races included various prizes for its winners, such as a $20,000 cedar canoe. Traditional artwork, jewelry and fashion were also on display at the event, showcasing the creativity of indigenous peoples.
In many Indigenous cultures, canoes are seen as members of the families who build them. The success and spirit of the canoe depends on the skills of its carver. Canoe building itself is a competitive art, and while the people building the canoes may not necessarily be racers themselves, they still hold a high degree of investment in the outcome of the competition.
Canoe racing and building is just one of many Aboriginal traditions that have survived to this day. It is crucial that the non-Indigenous community recognize and preserve these culturally significant events, allowing Indigenous peoples to be recognized and celebrated.