Journey Delayed: Ahousaht calls off Canoe Journey 2024

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

Off the coast of Vancouver Island, only accessible by boat or plane, is the home of the Ahousaht First Nation band, an island community where close to 40% of its 2,224 enrolled membership reside. The culture and traditional ways are strong within this band and many travel hundreds of miles to witness and partake in Ahousaht events and family potlatches. 

Whenever Ahousaht singers and dancers are offering their medicine, they captivate the crowd with the execution of their songs and chants. And wherever they have the floor, whether at Thunderbird Hall in Ahousaht or at protocol during canoe journey, onlookers can count on Ahousaht to bring plenty of energy for hours on end, as their singers are known to perform well into the early morning of the next day. 

While each tribe is a must-see during protocol at canoe journey, Ahousaht is a fan favorite for many people, who will go as far as to plan their day according to when Ahousaht will be hitting the floor, to ensure they won’t miss their set. 

If you were to ask lifelong canoe journey men and women, you will find that many will fondly recollect on the 1999 paddle to Ahousaht – it’s remoteness from the busy world, the natural scenery of the sea and nearby uninhabited islands, as well as the people’s hospitality and their connection to their teachings and traditions. 

With a great reputation for their showmanship and remarkable performances at canoe journey, there was much excitement when a handful of Ahousaht members shared that the band would be hosting the summertime cultural sharing event in 2024. As soon as that announcement was made on the Tribal Journeys Facebook page last August, anticipation immediately began to build, and social media was buzzing as people started planning for a long pull to Ahousaht. 

However, it appears that that announcement was made prematurely and the request to host the 2024 canoe journey did not go through the proper channels or follow the band’s traditional protocols or procedures. 

This is according to a February 6, media release shared by Ahousaht’s leadership which informed their fellow tribes that they will not be hosting this upcoming journey. Since the Ahousaht community is located on an island, event goers would need to park their vehicles in the small tourist town of Tofino, which has limited parking space as it is, and arrange a ride via water taxi to Ahousaht. Additionally, the band does not yet have the space to host an event of such a large scale, as canoe journey has gradually grown over the years since Ahousaht last hosted 25 years ago. 

The release stated, “… Ahousaht and the surrounding region, including the District of Tofino, are not prepared to host the 2024 Canoe Journeys. Ahousaht and Tofino currently lack the necessary infrastructure (ex. parking. accommodations, food services, washroom facilities, medical and security services, etc.) to effectively and safely host the volume of canoe families that participate in Canoe Journeys. Ahousaht are currently in the development stages of several key infrastructure projects that are due to be completed in the coming years.”

At the bottom of the media release, Ahousaht did promise that they would host canoe journey once they have the capacity to do so, which they estimated would be in about five years or so. 

The release was initially met with a bit dismay, but also an overall understanding, given the band’s reasoning to not host this year. Many were supportive and commended Ahousaht’s leadership for making the hard but necessary choice to hold off until they are able to safely host a weeklong gathering for hundreds of people. 

When asked how this decision will affect Tulalip and the canoes that sail under its banner, Skipper Andrew Gobin said that the canoe family has yet to meet to discuss whether or not they will awaken Big Brother, Big Sister, and Little Sister this year. Andrew did note that the Tribe organized a pull to Lopez Island during the canoe journey’s last gap year in 2020, and also mentioned that participation in Puyallup’s youth paddle could be a possibility for local kids and teens. But he quickly followed with the reiteration that a decision has not yet been made in regard to the Tulalip canoes following Ahousaht’s media release. So, keep an eye out for any future updates by following the Tulalip Canoes Facebook page.

The next canoe journey is set for the summer of 2025, which will be hosted on the Olympic Peninsula by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.