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Canoeing Canada

Maggio 2014
Come li immaginate i nativi americani del Canada, barricati negli igloo e vestiti di pelli di foca? Niente affatto: i membri della ‘First Nation’ vestono e parlano come tutti gli altri canadesi. Ma in più sono attenti custodi delle loro tradizioni, conoscono il nome e la storia della propria tribù e fanno di tutto per conservarla. Dennis Thomas alias Whonoak è uno di loro.

di Kathleen Becker

File audio:

Takaya Tours’  First Nation guides with their guests in North Vancouver.
Takaya Tours’ First Nation guides with their guests in North Vancouver.
Dennis Thomas.
Dennis Thomas.

Few Canadians really know about the culture of the people who populated this vast land long before the first settlers came. Only a short trip north from Vancouver, a storytelling canoe tour in a scenic inlet takes locals and visitors into nature and an ancient culture, and back in time.


With his short cropped hair and sunglasses, Dennis Thomas could be any young Canadian. But the Takaya Tours project manager has a deep sense of history and belonging. The skyline of Vancouver rises up on the horizon behind him, but this land is the territory of his ancestors, a First Nation community from the Coast Salish tribe.
The tour group is greeted by drums and a traditional welcoming song. Where we are standing now was a traditional summer village 1500 years ago. This area still preserves some rainforest. The most important tree is the majestic Western Red Cedar Tree. The Coast Salish used it to make their “longhouses,” long narrow residences containing a single room. The cedar is used to carve totem poles. It is also used to make the canoes that still go out to sea to hunt and fish. 


The traditional conical hat our female guide is wearing is also made from cedar fibres. She is warm and enthusiastic. On the jetty, we are given beautiful decorated paddles and life vests, and board two canoes. As we start paddling and find our rhythm, the guide tells us ancient stories. Handed down from generation to generation, they tell of the waters we are on and the animals that sustained life in the past. As if on cue, we see two large sea eagles with luminous white heads hunting overhead. The traditional stories tell of human interaction with both the natural and the supernatural world. In First Nation culture, these stories are considered “real” – in the sense that they are not simply legends but contain real knowledge about the world. If you listen carefully, they say, you will find all you need to know about life there.  


The Takaya tour company is owned by First Nation, and the guides all belong to the Tsleil-Waututh. The community’s name translates as “People of the Inlet.” About half of the tribe, some 250 people, live on a local reserve formed in the 19th century by the Canadian government. In the local language, Takaya signifies wolf, and they see themselves as the Children of Takaya. The Story of the Wolf tells how the Creator transformed the Wolf into the first member of this tribe, and made it responsible for the land. Experiences like this storytelling paddle expedition are a great way of connecting the community and visitors to a shared history.  




Speaker: Chuck Rolando (Standarad American accent)

We meet a First Nation Canadian who introduces himself:

Dennis Thomas (Canadian accent)

Hello, my traditional name is “Whonoak,” it’s spelled W-H-O-N-O-A-K, and my English given name is Dennis Thomas. I’m a community member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, which means “People of the Inlet” here in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I’ve been a project manager for Takaya Tours, which is an ecotourism, canoe and kayak business. I specifically manage the cultural canoe aspect of the company, that is owned and operated by the Nation.


And he had more to say about the cultural aspect:

Dennis Thomas

First Nation culture, along with any other culture around the world, has a spirit. So we believe that a canoe has a spirit. You treat it with respect, you treat it with dignity. You treat it like a loved one, like a relative because that is your means of transportation, that’s the means of your survival. We’re all nomadic over here. We travel from different villages to different resources, to different rivers, to get that fish, to get that bird, to get that elk. You need that canoe in order to move it.


Dennis Thomas says that people tend to view First Nation Canadians as “primitive,” but he believes that Vancouver’s hosting of the Winter Olympics in 2010 may have helped change that image:

Dennis Thomas

There’s stereotypes, that people always, you know, think of First Nations or natives in Canada; we all live in big igloos, or we all live in teepees, which is not true. There are over 600 different First Nations in Canada. In BC alone, there’s 203. If you think about it, that’s a lot of different cultures. You know, there’s 13 different language families in all across Canada, and alone in BC, there is seven of them. And Coast Salish, which is where I’m from, is one of them. So, because of the opening ceremonies, it was on a world stage. They got to see all the different types of cultures, it broke a lot of stereotypes. People are starting to catch on, people are starting to want to get to know how it is. When I go to Europe, I go to all the ancient places ‘cause I want to learn history. And I figure, and I’d imagine people that travel here, they’d want to know our history.


The Tours are about an hour’s bus and taxi ride from Vancouver. You can choose from different tours, from a rainforest walk to the storytelling canoe trip. www.takayatours.com

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People are starting to catch on. To catch on è un phrasal verb con vari significati: qui vuol dire “rendersi conto, capire”. Si usa il verbo to catch on anche per parlare di una tendenza, oppure di una moda. Quando una tendenza ha successo si può dire it has really caught on (“è diventato popolare, è diventata una tendenza”).

BC. Queste lettera stanno per British Columbia, una regione occidentale del Canada. Ma attenzione: BC sta anche per Before Christ (AC, Avanti Cristo). Anche le città americane usano le lettere iniziali. Gli esempi più famosi sono LA (Los Angeles) e NYC (New York City).

I figure.
Io penso. Il verbo to figure significa capire, calcolare, immaginare ecc. C’è anche il phrasal verb to figure out (calcolare, arrivare alla conclusione) e la frase go figure (che si sente spesso nei film e nelle soap opera americane): esprime solitamente una lieve indignazione ed equivale all’italiano “pensa te”, “guarda un po’!”