Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition

Skeena Swim Blog

Tuesday, August 04: Brian Huntington writes from Gitsegukla Village

It is morning now. I am sitting on the gravel bar beside the Skeena River finishing up some thimbleberry pancakes and highbush cranberry juice.
I am trying to send out this quick note on yesterday’s activities but people from the village are arriving one by one to see us off with bright smiles, prayers and gifts…. Just a moment ago, standing in the morning sun with the river all around us… Peter Jones presented his drum to Ali so that she can sing with the people as she makes her way downstream. This kind of generosity has overwhelmed us since we arrived back into Skeena communities a few days ago. The grace of it is beyond words.

I will run quickly through the images of yesterday and then will get back to the people who are here with us now….

Ali’s mother Alex gathered us in a circle at the confluence of the Bulkley and Skeena and sent us on our way with a beautiful prayer. Ali’s father Jim stood in the gravel between the two great rivers and waved us off.
Doug Donaldson took the time to ride his bike down for our farewell.
The river and landscape have changed. The sky feels enormous and the views of mountains are distant and slow. We got our first glimpse of the Seven Sisters and realized that it will take us about four days to float around them.

Float float float… fish fish fish…. Fishermen waving and chatting us up from the shore. Sunshine and endless blue. A cooler breeze today.

The arrival at Gitsegukla is worth a thousand pages. I will quickly try to share some of the magic…

We arrived from upstream to a long gravel bar filled with people
Four young men in full regalia
Head pieces of cedar, feather and paint
Placed on their heads by their teachers
Their family dressing them in beaded blankets

They approached Ali from a distant at the sound of one drum beat
They said “Guuula.”,
which means come, and invited Ali to step amongst them. They walked together and entered between two lines of village members with drums beating rhythmically, singing loudly so that everyone could feel the music and be aware of the extension of the music from heart to heart and beyond.
Ali was still soaked with Skeena water and stood in her swimming gear surrounded by the circle of music and drumming.

After singing they extended prayers and visions for our journey and for the river. The words were clear and true….
We are the people of the Skeena….
We must take care for everything depends on the salmon.
It is our responsibility and it brings our culture to life and purpose to do so.

We were left alone for the evening and found the lower Skeena groove in the goofiness and games we play. As a team we have truly found each other as individuals…

Elders and kids wandered back down later in the night with drumming, songs and stories by the fire. We all sat together under a big moon and the stars.

We received the story of this village and the people
They invited us to sleep where there old village used to be. It was washed away in the high water of 1936 and they moved to higher ground on the next bench. Now there are berries and a single message pole where the village used to be. This morning there was a bear in the clearing as Shannon and Aaron gathered berries for breakfast.

To fully express the ease and elegance of this community and depth of connection that was discovered in our brief time together by the river last night seems impossible. As I write this the drums are warming as everyone gathers again to send us off. This journey has opened our hearts where we carry the songs and stories downstream.

Thanks for enduring the ramble…. The sun is already getting hot and the drums are getting louder.

A quick word on Ali…. She is becoming a true inspiration to be around. This journey that she is on has elevated her to a special place…. She is clear, intuitive, calm, entirely focused and deeply connected to the water. It is a real gift to be around her and with each new day on the river and with each new song and prayer and gift that she if offered…. her presence grows. If you have the chance to see her out here, I would encourage you to take the opportunity. Its special and I have personally watched children and elders respond to her with a passion that we so often seek in our lives. Is that too much to say? Maybe, but where were I stand right now I see a group of people young and old gathered around a woman beside a river in the sun. And they are singing.

We welcome you to join us.

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Posted by Todd Stockner  on  08/05  at  08:30 PM

tears in my eyes . . . again.
Well done Brian, you captured the moment yet again.

Posted by Liz Williams  on  08/06  at  01:16 AM

Such good inspiration!, I was in Gitwangak today as you arrived and as I spoke with each of you I could sense the connection to the land you had aquired! filled with life, as sure as our salmon and river are to us! You are all an inspriation to the WORLD!. Thank you for you genuine efforts, which is so uniqe and scarce in this time and age. Hugs and prayers to you all!

Posted by Anais Hamann  on  08/06  at  11:32 AM

Nice words to describe the magical arrival and evening there at Gitsegukla. Words do have limitations in their ability to express and relay the connections between peoples and our lands and waters. I wish you well and send you off with love , all of ya, as you head down river to Kitwanga, then Insect creek and beyond. Another moment of tears it will be as Russ Huntington arrives there this morning to join you for the next few days. Love and power peace to you all, of which i know the river and the people of the rivers are sharing with you. See you down river!

Posted by Yvonne Eddy  on  08/06  at  12:15 PM

Thanks for the beautiful and descriptive blog entry, Brian. Every morning the first thing we do is check the blog to see if there is any news of Ali’s swim. The blogs really helps us feel connected with the expedition(and Andrew) even though we are far away. It’s wonderful to hear the stories of your experiences as they are happening. We are inspired daily by the stories of Ali’s strength and determination. We wish you all a safe journey to the sea.

Posted by Violet Sampare  on  08/06  at  01:08 PM

Good afternoon, I know that today, you leave Gitwangak and continue your journey to Kitselas.
Your stop over in Gitsegukla was very inspiring to our community. It has enhanced the meaning of what our terretories mean to us. Especially the Skeena River, where we catch our fish, which is very essential to our livelyhood. I am also honored to have had your group stay over on part of my famly’s terretory in the Kuldo. The cabin where you camped is my cousin Bea’s. We too like to spend alot of time with her up there in the summer and the fall before she leaves it for the winter.
My Blessings to you all for the rest of your journey. We will go to NP to welcome Ali to shore on August 15th. My husband Roddy Sampare (Simogyet Gwagl’lo)(Superfrog) is looking forward to the trip to NP for the celebration.

Have a wonderful day!!

Violet Sampare

Posted by Tara  on  08/08  at  09:43 AM

Again, I am sniffling, and wiping tears from my eyes. What a wonderfully written blog, not too much, just, perfect Brian. It brought me right there, and in the heart.  The timing of this iniative is amazing, with the cycles of the moon, and the even the year we’re in. It is all so powerful.  Ali and team, your presence is helping lift so many people into thier hearts.  I am so grateful to be touched by this.

Posted by Jeffrey Holland  on  08/08  at  10:04 PM

That is a lovely view of the people of Gitsegukla and their expressed connection to the Skeena - truly what the adventure is all about.

Posted by JOSETTE  on  08/10  at  05:51 PM

I can’t help the tears coming down whiloe I read this.  The beauty of the event, the reception of the First Nations along the way and their enormous demonstration of hospitality.

I am so thankful to Ali and the team for this, weaving us together as the river reaches the ocean.

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