No matter how you start your day, we all start by putting our foot through a pant leg one at a time. Not at T’ashii. At T’ashii Paddle School those pant legs change day to day. One day you’ll be putting on regular jeans or shorts because it’s sunny and you have a canoe tour. The next day you could be wearing rain pants. On the third day, you might find yourself squeezing into a wetsuit to practice canoe flip drills. It changes from day to day.
On regular sunny days, I will usually have two canoe tours. I start these days by checking in with the bookings at work. This is where I will usually find out how many people I have on my tours. After this, I head into the staff room where we keep our trip log. I fill this out every day with the weather conditions, tides, wind conditions and trip time. Once this is done I go to the canoe to bail it out.
When my guests arrive I greet them with a handshake and tell them my name. I also tell them my traditional name and what it means. I give them PFDs and paddles. I have to make sure their PFDs fit and that they’re snug. After this, I demonstrate the four basic paddle strokes and tell them what situations we will use them in. We then make our way to the canoe. This is where I show them how to get in the canoe and how to sit comfortably. I then let my guests into the canoe and assist anyone who has troubles. After this, I untie and we make our way.
While we are paddling I tell my guests about the history of the area. From the war in the woods to how Raven stole the sun. I tell them about the struggles indigenous people had and continue to have. I talk about industrial impacts and environmental threats, and how these things affect our area. I also talk about residential schools and how they affected the mindset of our peoples. I talk about pain and love and the traditional values our people have to uphold. From singing and dancing to fishing and hunting and the traditional practices we have to ensure the next generation will have more than we did or just as much.
This all may seem like just talking and paddling, but every day I go out of my comfort zone to make sure my guests go home happy. I make sure they go home knowing that the indigenous people are still here and not leaving. We are here to protect the land and keep our home happy and healthy. My job may be out of my comfort zone but I am okay with that. At the end of the day I love my job and the people I get to be around. I may not work here forever but it is a great job to have for now. If there were a day to come where I would run a company similar to this one I would be quite content with that. It’s honest work.
Thomas Zarelli. Photo credit: TJ Watt