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Traditional Nuu-chah-nulth wedding ceremony uplifts community

Groom paddles in a canoe to ask for bride’s hand in marriage
At the bow of the canoe, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Joey David and Ucluelet First Nation Gillian George paddle home after committing to each other during a traditional Nuu-chah-nulth wedding ceremony in Hitacu on Aug. 21. (Ed Chernis photo)

A traditional Nuu-chah-nulth wedding ceremony took place in the Ucluelet First Nation’s community of Hitacu this summer.

The groom, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Joey David, paddled in a dugout canoe to the shores of Hitacu to ask for his bride’s, Ucluelet First Nation Gillian George, hand in marriage.

August 21 was a typically foggy morn when Joey paddled with his son Isiah, 20, and his closest friends Noah Thomas, Duane Martin, Jeff David, Bruce Frank, and Billy George to get his bride.

Joey told the Westerly he had to ask Ucluelet First Nation elder Ronnie George, the bride’s grandpa, for permission from the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation House of Alex Frank.

“It used to be an arranged thing and usually things were traded. They could ask for firewood or fish. It could have gone on for days. But we have a child together already so they couldn’t ask for much,” Joey said from their home in the Tla-o-qui-aht community of Ty-Histanis on Long Beach.

“I had to dance, which I’ve never done in my life. I was nervous,” he went on to note.

Singing and drumming rung out from the canoe as Gillian was escorted to the shore with their daughter Sienna, 13, hidden behind a black blanket. She wore a traditional cedar headband crafted by Savannah Rose.

“My grandpa wanted to say no because he didn’t want to let me go,” Gillian said. “I’m so grateful this happened for him. He is 85 and this is the first time he’s seen this. All the elders were saying ‘thank you’. It uplifted people.”

After sharing speeches and giving gifts, the Tla-o-qui-aht groom and the Ucluelet First Nation bride were honoured with traditional names ‘Wa we ka nata’ (meaning: Always prepared for many occasions) and ‘Tsii ilth tlum ka’ (meaning: One who speaks with pride and compassion along with one who takes what is being taught and never forgets along with when they make an appearance they come with a lot of power to how they speak to all).

Joey and Gillian have known each other since they were teenagers; they graduated from Ucluelet Secondary School together. Gillian says their relationship grew from being on the same slow pitch team, the Long Beach Ravens.

“He proposed in January after dinner at Black Rock. He was kinda being awkward and nervous. When we got back home there were candles and lights and ‘will you marry me?’ was posted on the wall,” she said, adding that it was Joey’s idea to ask her grandpa for her hand the traditional Nuu-chah-nulth way.

Joey said he started preparing by requesting the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Seitcher family canoe for the occasion.

“I think this will happen more. I’ve inspired other family members,” he said.

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