Canoeists stop here en route to ‘manhood’

Niska Calm Wind, 16, Lance Vargas-Solis, 17, and Wasaskun Wuttunee, 20, aren’t taking lightly their approach to manhood. In fact, it could be said they’ve paddled for miles in order to get there.
The young trio, who hail from British Columbia, Alberta, and Sioux Lookout, Ont. respectively, along with their mentor, Stephane Wuttunee, 30, of Calgary, made a stopover here last week before heading onto Rainy Lake for the next leg of the unique journey that began June 21 in Edmonton.
The foursome, who are Cree and related to each other, hope to reach Old Port Marine in Quebec sometime in November.
“It’s a rite of passage, a commemorative process of entry into manhood for young men,” said Stephane Wuttunee, who made a similar journey on his own in 1991.
“They began as young guys and now they’re older young guys,” he noted. “They had to rely on me a lot in the beginning but now they have become more independent and I am very proud of them,”
Wuttunee said he and his young trio have balanced nights in the wilderness with the occasional hotel room or boarder. Dry food rations also have been tempered with trips to the grocery store in communities along the way.
But a two-week stopover in Sioux Lookout last month to raise more money for the trip through donations from tribal councils left the canoeists well behind schedule.
As a result, they’ve been putting in 12-hour days to try and catch up.
To make matters worse, the foursome bottomed out one of their canoes on a big rock five km downstream of here.
“I have learned to live every day as if your life depended on it and when something really hard comes along, I’ve learned to think that soon it’s going to be over,” said Wuttunee’s younger brother, Wasaskun.
“I’ve learned that teamwork and people skills are important,” added Vargas-Solis. “I’ve also been getting very deep in my thoughts and planning what I want to do with my future–and coping with my past as well.
“It’s been a healing journey,” he noted.
But the journey also has made them appreciative of everyday things they once took for granted.
“I miss sleeping in,” said Calm Wind.
“I miss vegging out and watching TV,” chuckled Wasaskun Wuttunee. “But I miss my friends and family the most of all.”
Stephane Wuttunee said he longed for home-cooked meals and showers, noting bathing outdoors in the cold left a lot to be desired.
Frequent updates on the canoeists’ progress can be accessed on the web at www.canoetrip.nisa.com