Kingcome Inlet
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Government dock
Up River
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August 7

Yesterday was another extraordinary day.  Twenty five years ago, when I first moved the Northwest, I was captivated by a book, “I Heard the Owl Call My Name.”  The book was set in the native village of  Kingcome, and I wanted to visit there.  I bought my first boat then, a 27 foot named “Elsa” and Lynne Masland and I began a grand adventure.  Thinking every day we were going to sail off the edge of the world, we made a long and difficult trip to Kingcome Inlet.  After reaching he head of the inlet, we found that the river trip was more dangerous than we had expected and that access to the native community more complex.  So a day later we left,  and never visited the village.

Now I had learned that such a visit might be possible.  A recently published book by Judith Williams, “Two Wolves at the Dawn of Time,” described some of the recent developments at “Gwa’yi,” the traditional name of the village, and Max and Anca at Kwatsi Bay told us that Lorne Brown at Shawl Bay might be able to arrange a visit for us.

So on August 5 arrived in Shawl Bay we found  Lorne was wonderfully friendly and helpful and after a couple of phone calls, told us that Dave Dawson would meet us at the government dock at the head of Kingcome Inlet the next day at noon.

At noon on the 6th, Clyde Dawson, Dave’s son, arrived in his skiff and we made the delicate three-mile trip up river to the village.  The river has many channels, and constantly shifting sandbars and floating stumps.  Without local knowledge, it would be a dangerous undertaking.  But, perhaps more importantly, people in the village are warm and hospitable when visitors are expected, but without advance notice, they might feel, with justification, intruded upon.

But with Clyde’s inviting personality, we felt very comfortable and at home and he opened up for us a unique way of life.

Gwa’yi is the only native village on the west coast that has been continuously occupied since before contact.  Native people were forced from all other traditional sites and relocated to towns and designated “reserves.”

The history of the area is rich.  In 1998, the artist Marianne Nicolson painted a new pictograph near pictographs from earlier days.  As Clyde took us to visit his parents, Ruth and Dave Dawson, to the old Anglican church and to the new school and health center, we felt the time-warp of blending of past and present.

Nowhere was this more graphic than in the visit to the old “big house” where Ryan, a young man about eighteen years old was practicing traditional songs to the beat of the drum log, and then to the new “big house” that is currently under construction.  Finally, we met with Willie Hawkins who is one of the carvers fashioning the uprights and beams for the new big house.  On the beach, several other carvers were shaping the huge logs that would form the beams.

As we returned to the government dock, young people from the village were also making their way downstream to meet Bill McKay on Naiad Explorer who was to take them to Alert Bay for a major gathering of canoes from throughout the coastal region.

Before he left, Dave Dawson left us a fresh Sockeye and three beautiful crabs.

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New Carving
New House
Center Beam
Old Big House
Two Cultures
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