Capital to Capitol by Canoe: Part III

By Clive Doucet


On September 5, 2012, following a smudging ceremony led by Evelyn Commanda, the expedition’s team of paddlers and their well-wishers launched the equipment-laden 34 foot canoe from the southeastern shore of Turtle Island. Alternatively called Victoria Island, the site lies just beyond the historic Chaudière Falls and the Portage Bridge, seen above, and overlooks the Kit-chi-sippi or the Great River. Later renamed the Ottawa River, its waters defined the heartland of the Algonquin First Nations for millennia, and after European contact, underpinned the economic and cultural history of the entire Ottawa region. Photo: ©Shanta Rohse Creative Commons 2.0

The expedition from Ottawa to Washington D.C. was in memory and honour of William Commanda, the Algonquin elder and spiritual leader who died on August 3, 2011 at the age of 98. As a child, William Commanda avoided residential school by hiding in the forest, and was able to escape that great eraser of language and culture. In spite of a childhood marked by poverty and hunger, he grew up to be recognized for his leadership by his own people, and by people from many other countries. As Keeper of the Seven Fires Prophecy Belt, the Jay Treaty Border Crossing and the Three Figure Welcoming Wampum Belt, band chief and in his elder years, Grandfather Commanda, he was recognized around the world for his efforts to inspire reconciliation and spiritual renewal among peoples of all nations with his annual Circle of All Nations meetings.

His daughter, Evelyn Commanda, came to Turtle Island (a.k.a. Victoria Island) with her husband to bless our departure with a smudging ceremony. It was the perfect send-off. As we made the long journey, I often thought of Grandfather Commanda. He was a master birch-bark-canoe maker, guide and trapper, and I am sure that he would have liked the way our battered old freighter canoe performed across lakes and along rivers. He once said the longest voyage on any canoe trip is the one you make inside yourself. This was certainly true for me and I am sure it was for others in our merry band as well.

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