Respect for the land, the people

Indigenous communities embrace opportunities along The Great Trail

  Darren Yelton, a Squamish Nation wood carver, learned to carve from his father and continues a lineage that goes back over 10,000 years.  Photo by Daniel Baylis

Darren Yelton, a Squamish Nation wood carver, learned to carve from his father and continues a lineage that goes back over 10,000 years. Photo by Daniel Baylis

Darren Yelton sees The Great Trail as an opportunity for people to learn about his culture. The Squamish Nation wood carver is one of many Indigenous people who, in various ways, welcome visitors to the 24,000-kilometre Trail. 

The cedar-based welcome designs, located at Waterfront Park in North Vancouver, symbolize that all people can use The Great Trail in peace and friendship, explains Mr. Yelton. Each carving is a story, with the salmon representing nourishment and white doves representing peace. Two elders are also present, specifically grandmother and grandfather figures. 

“The grandparents are strong figures – they symbolize respect,” says Mr. Yelton. “If I see any elders, I greet them as I would greet my grandparents. This is part of my culture.” 

He learned to carve from his father, continuing a lineage that goes back over 10,000 years. “As a carver, I enjoy keeping my culture alive where my father left off,” says Mr. Yelton, whose ancestral name K’na’kweltn means “he who is good with tools and works to save the future of his people.”

In addition to representing Indigenous culture in post-residential school Canada, the carvings serve to welcome visitors. Traditionally, the Squamish Nation (along with other Coast Salish peoples) kept carvings in front of their homes or above their doors as welcome symbols. 

Mr. Yelton adds, “I call them markers, because [they let] the public know that this was once Squamish territory.” 

Along with opportunities to see Indigenous art, enjoy educational activities and access nature, people using The Great Trail often seek out services related to food and accommodation, which can mean economic development for the hundreds of small communities – many of them Indigenous communities – situated along the Trail. 

Located in the Northwest Territories, the Dene community of Tulit’a is an example where attracting travellers has enhanced the local economy. The hamlet of 600 people is located at the confluence of the Great Bear River and the Mackenzie River, a strategic location where those embarking on long-distance paddling adventures can rest and restock. 

Tulit’a – where 90 per cent of residents have Indigenous heritage – recently unveiled a campground that offers picnic tables, fire pits, bear-proof garbage cans and other amenities. A newly constructed Trail section leads to the heart of the village, where visitors can replenish supplies, participate in guided cultural experiences and visit historic sites. This past summer saw 220 visitors, a number that might seem small compared to other Canadian destinations, but means significant economic spinoffs for Tulit’a. 

With The Great Trail comes the potential of welcoming visitors, and that is something many Indigenous communities embrace, for cultural and economic reasons, as well as for the opportunity to enhance mutual understanding and appreciation. In other words: respect for the land and respect for the people.