Reflections on the Water: Festival Afloat 2023 recap

As we lower our sails and anchor for the fall, we are reflecting on another successful year of Festival Afloat. We are still basking in the excitement of our adventure on the water (and land)! Thanks to the support of business sponsors, artists, volunteers, Indigenous knowledge keepers, and donors we managed to raise 55K for Heiltsuk Nation’s legal challenge in the wake of the Nathan E Stewart spill! 

We would like to give a big thank you to Prince of Whales for being our 2023 Festival Afloat presenting sponsor! This one-of-a-kind festival aboard the Providence wouldn’t have been possible without their support. 

We are also so grateful to our Festival sponsor, Earnest Ice Cream who have always been supportive of all our fundraising efforts!

“As long time supporters of RAVEN, we’re excited any time we can support the excellent and important environmental justice work that RAVEN does. When you add great music and a unique floating concert, we’re all the more excited to join the fun!” – Erika, Earnest Ice Cream

Throughout the summer, over 1000 people paddled up on kayaks and paddleboards to enjoy floating concerts in Vancouver, Victoria and the Gulf Islands; while hundreds enjoyed learning about history and Indigenous cultural traditions linked to the Salish Sea from guides like Geraldine Manson (Snuneymuxw), Della Rice (Cowichan), Charlene George (T’sooke) and Carl Olsen (Tsartlip). 

All taking place aboard the Providence Tall Ship — the oldest working passenger vessel in B.C.! Launching  July 9, in Vancouver, we set sail with Captain Carson and his crew. Together we traveled about 800 nautical miles across the Salish Sea, stopping at different communities throughout the summer to host concerts and day-cruises in support of Heiltsuk Nation’s legal challenge.

Vancouver – Jericho Beach ( Iy̓ál̓mexw, ʔəy̓alməxʷ ) 

Our journey began in Vancouver, where we were serenaded by songstress Desiree Dawson! This was her third year supporting RAVEN’s Festival Afloat Salish Sea concerts. Desirée Dawson is a JUNO-nominated recording artist, songwriter, producer and yoga teacher. She is very passionate about music’s role in collective healing, and encourages listeners to find a connection within themselves and the people and land around them. 

“I really appreciate how RAVEN raises funds so Indigenous communities can protect their rights and integrity to land and culture. I also really appreciate that when there is outreach and education that Indigenous communities are at the centre so we really know what’s at stake.” –

Desirée Dawson

She was joined by hip hop artist HK aka Higher Knowledge, who shook the boat with his powerful stories, lyrics and teachings.

“I’ve turned down quite lucrative money and opportunities to work with people because of who and what they represent. Even this past Canada Day, I was offered a paid gig to do something at an event, but turned that down.  I love how RAVEN is in community and working with some cool Indigenous people. I love to perform and I love helping people, and this is a fundraiser for Heiltsuk Nation…so shout out to my Northern cousins. The way you have people on a boat and people swimming up, I love that!” – HK

We would like to send a big thank you to our local sponsors in Vancouver: Windsure Adventure watersports, Greenwave Rentals, Jericho Kayak Center.

Gabriola – Silva Bay Marina

With the wind in our sails we journeyed to Gabriola Island, where we enjoyed the folk and country tunes of Saltwater Hank! 

Jeremy Pahl, is a Ts’msyen musician who goes by the name Saltwater Hank when releasing English-language music. This summer, he released a new album sung only in Sm’algya̱x and intentionally launched it on Canada Day.

In an interview with CBC, Pahl says, “It’s not so much a celebratory day, especially for Indigenous people, whose land has been compromised, whose genocide has occurred,” noting that other Nations, like the Heiltsuk, are working to reclaim that day for their own celebrations as well. 
He was joined by Dagger Harbour, a folk duo based in Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal.

We would like to thank Silva Bay Marina for partnering with us at this location!

Victoria – Victoria Event Center

Our next stop was Victoria, but this time we anchored and enjoyed our very first Festival Afloat concert on land! We were joined by Mohawk singer-songwriter Logan Staats. To Staats, music is a healing salve, contemplatively composed and offered to listeners in need of comfort. Since re-rooting back to his Six Nations homelands, Staats has been able to create music authentically again, reclaiming his sound through honest storytelling and unvarnished, sometimes painful reflection. He was joined by Goldstepz, an artist based out of south Burnaby, mixing both hip-hop and r&b influences into a unique style blending intentional lyricism with dreamy melodies. 

Salt Spring Island – Ganges Harbour and Wildseed

With our anchors lifted, we made our way to Salt Spring Island where we enjoyed a concert on the water from Renee Layla!

“I am so thrilled to be a performer for Festival Afloat. What an incredible opportunity for such a unique way of delivering a concert, while supporting Indigenous sovereignty and access to justice. Decolonization is an ongoing process and the work has only just begun. We all have a responsibility to recognize and act on the importance of Indigenous cultural traditions and the rights that Indigenous people have to their land and resources. Justice for clean drinking water, healing multi-generational trauma from Residential schools, land rights, access to language and culture – these are all reasons why it is such an honour to be involved in such a meaningful project with RAVEN”

– Renee Layla.

This is Renee’s second year of performing at our Festival Afloat concerts and her swoon-worthy vocals drew in listeners on their canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards, just as it did the year prior. She was joined by Jose Sanchez with Ciranda who energized the crowd with their Brazilian samba music!

Later in the month, we enjoyed our second on land concert at WildSeed with Luke Wallace on Salt Spring Island! This was Luke’s third time performing at Festival Afloat!

We would like to thank Ganges Marina for partnering with us at this location, as well as our local sponsors: Country Grocer and Salt Spring Island Foundation. 

Pender Island – Port Browning 

On the final day of RAVEN’s Festival Afloat 2023, due to unforeseen circumstances, we found ourselves without a musician to perform on Pender Island. Luckily, our brilliant crew and new friends aboard the Providence were able to make some calls and quickly put together two acts, including local folk band Peach and Quiet. Both knee deep in office work on that Friday afternoon, Heather Read and Jonny Miller didn’t expect to get a phone call asking them if they wanted to perform on a tall ship that night in Port Browning Marina!

Years ago Heather visited Bella Bella — the lands and waters that Heitlsuk people call home. While there she felt a deep appreciation for the territory and the Peoples who cared for it. 

“Seeing the majestic orcas and the pristine forests actually gave me a renewed sense of hope in the world,” says Heather. We would like to give them a big thanks for their support!

We would like to thank Mill Bay Marina for partnering with us at this location!

Tall Ship Cruises

Thanks to the support of the captain and crew of the Providence, we were able to offer our Tall Ship sailing cruises for another year! This 3-hour experience took passengers on the Salish sea, learning from local Indigenous guides on the history and cultural significance of the lands and waters. At the same time, passengers were able to witness how much work goes into stewarding a tall ship! 

We would like to give a big thank you to everyone who made this year’s Festival Afloat a success! To our local sponsors: Dog Mermaid, Village Builders, Gulf Island Seaplanes, Coastal Bliss, Village Builders…we wouldn’t have been able to do it without you! 

Our first year started with just one drop, but it’s created a wave that has traveled to many shores! Over the 4 years, Festival Afloat has raised $190k for Indigenous legal challenges! Thank you to everyone who made this year a success. We are always in awe of the difference that can be made when our community comes together. It’s time to anchor for fall and winter, but we are looking forward to continuing this adventure next year! 

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