Looking carefully so as not to step on anyone,
I slowly back up to get in place for the money shot. In front of me, a staff member of Takaya Tours is taking a photo on his smartphone of a Brazilian cameraman, who is using a professional-grade TV camera to take video footage of Takaya tour leader Dennis Thomas, who is leading a group drum chant in Cates Park, North Vancouver. Next to the TV cameraman, another Brazilian reporter is taking still photos of the chant with her SLR camera. And so ancient tradition and modern technology meet face to face.
The only thing missing is Thomas taking a selfie on his own phone of all of us taking photos of him.
Takaya Tours (www.takayatours.com) is a First Nations tourism company promoting Tsleil Waututh traditions on their home territory in North Vancouver at the south end of Indian Arm. Aboriginal tourism in B.C. is starting to gain global notice and as the closest aboriginal tourism destination between downtown Vancouver and the wilderness just beyond, the Takaya tours are in perfect position to lead the way.
“Germany, the United States, Korea, Brazil,” lists Thomas as we paddle from the dock to the middle of Burrard Inlet, “these days we are getting folks from all around the world. Groups and families, mostly. Most have never been in a canoe before.”
The canoe seats 14, including a skipper and native paddlers and, today, a TV crew. The protected waters of the inlet are perfect to explore early in the day. Later on, winds from Indian Arm will start to blow.
“A lot of tourists start by going to see the totems in Stanley Park or Klahowya Village in the park, or they come over here,” Thomas says to the TV crew. “I tell them just around the corner in Indian Arm, there are 29 more kilometres of deep fiord and it’s all pure wilderness. Bears, deer, coyotes, wolves, mountains, salmon. They can’t believe it. There’s no place like this in the world, the wilderness so close to a major city.”
The Brazilian crew is filming a feature for HBO TV and on a brilliant autumn day of deep blue skies and dazzling sunshine, they can’t believe the vista, either. In the distance, behind the Second Narrows Bridge to the west, the tips of downtown skyscrapers are visible. In the other direction, around the corner to the north, Indian Arm winds through the mountains like an endless dream. Despite the beauty of its famous beach, the TV crew admits Rio de Janeiro boasts no vista like this.
“We started 14 years ago with a real hand-carved cedar canoe,” Thomas says as we paddle around the corner of Cates Park and head east towards Belcarra, where the Tsleil Waututh maintained a village for 4,500 years.
Indeed, should you so desire, groups of six to 72 people can enjoy a two-hour paddle in several canoes, with native songs and interpretive stories or a canoe paddle followed by a walking tour through the rainforest. ‘Indigenous plant diva’ Cease Wyss (T’ut’tanat in her native tongue) shares her traditional knowledge of plants that can be found in the forest, whether it’s fiddlehead ferns, comfrey, or frog leaf, plants that carry with them millenniums of wisdom.
Canoes are fine for small groups, but these days the demand is more for individual kayaks — lighter and faster. Takaya offers two-hour to multi-day kayaking tours, including overnight camping at the north end of Indian Arm.
Want a bigger boat? There’s even a 40-passenger motor vessel for group charters.
The shores of Indian Arm are a strange mix of steep cliffs, short flat beaches and small cottage communities. There is no road access past the small community of Woodlands, just north of Deep Cove. Say Nuth Khaw Yum (Serpent’s Land) is Tsleil Waututh traditional hunting territory. For thousands of years, the Tsleil Waututh lived along the shores, hunted deer and fished for salmon. Today, they manage the park collaboratively with the provincial government and are trying to bring the fish, seal, game and plant populations back to their original splendour. This is the southernmost fiord in B.C. and it’s really deep, around 200 metres.
In fall, about 60,000 pink salmon make their way up Indian Arm on odd numbered years, spawning in the Indian River estuary at the north end. Chum salmon also migrate annually in large numbers, along with smaller numbers of coho and chinook. There are three yacht clubs at the end of the Arm, including the historic Wigwam Inn, built as a luxury resort in 1910 and now privately owned by the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, but few independent kayakers make it that far. Takaya is the way to go.
“Come back again,” Thomas says as we tie up at the dock at Cates Park and load the canoe back onto a truck, “there’s so much more to see.”
As I take my photos of the Takaya staff taking photos of the TV crew, I hear a noise behind me. I look around. One of the Brazilians is taking a photo of me taking photos of everyone else. I think, no matter what happens, we have this story covered.