By contributor Jessie Deeble

Master Carver John Marston has dedicated the next three and a half months to carving a traditional Coast Salish canoe at Chemainus Secondary.

The Chemainus alumni is doing his part to help bring awareness to the students about the cultural diversity in their community.

Marston has been working towards this project since last year and has been discussing it with Katherine Reid, the now-retired Aboriginal Education teacher for the northern families at the school, and George Seymour, a Cultural Teaching Assistant for the northern families in the district.

They proposed the idea of doing a traditional Coast Salish carving where the students could participate hands-on and learn about the Coast Salish culture. The concept for the piece was tossed back and forth a few times before settling on the canoe. The process started with a blessing ceremony that was performed on a red cedar log by members of the local nations: Stz’uminus, Penelakut, Halalt, and Quw’utsun.

The canoe is a large part of the Coast Salish culture, Marston said. It’s what their ancestors used for transportation and how they fished.

Marston hopes the project will bring a group of people to work towards the same goal. Observation is open to the community, as well as students and staff at the school.

“It’s a vessel for unity,” said Marston.

The school is located on the borders of three Coast Salish nations, and Marston hopes to not only share his passion for carving with the school, but to peak the students’ interest in their community’s cultural diversity.

“It’s not about carving; it’s about my relationship with the students, the students’ relationship with the school and the school’s relationship with the community,” said Marston.

Marston works at the secondary school every Wednesday from 8:30 am-2 pm but, come March, he is hoping to be there more. March is also when the students will be able to work hands-on with the project.

Right now it’s a lot of observing and question-asking, Curriculum Coordinator for Aboriginal Education Dan Norman said. The first four days of work, Marston had to use a chainsaw; he has been roughing out the shape, but they are hoping that very soon the students will be able to start helping.

An art teacher, Craig Miller, said students can watch and apply what they learn to their own work, and be able to ask questions as they go.

Right now he has the students working on drawing out their own paddle and mask designs on paper using the traditional Coast Salish designs and patterns.

“It’s amazing to see all the ways the students can take the traditional style and give it a modern twist,” said Miller. “You can even see where the students that are visiting our school from the international programs have taken different aspects from their own cultures and applied them to their pieces.”

“We all have to paddle together, and everyone needs their own,” said Miller. He hopes to get his art classes working on carving their own paddles when it’s time for student participation.

Norman said the Laughing Bear Canoe will be in Marston’s care once finished, though the school and students will have access to it. He’s hoping that there will be a launching ceremony where the students will be able to take the canoe out, either at the Kinsman Park, or Fuller Lake in Chemainus. The canoe is scheduled to be finished in May 2015.