Jacqueline Davis ~ Founder of The First Nations Breast Cancer Society
In 1996 our first drummer was Jacqueline Davis, a Cree woman from the Peguis First Nation in Manitoba with breast cancer. We loved having Jackie on the boat because she was very vivacious and outgoing and was proud to represent First Nations cancer survivors. Her position as drummer was very important as it was part of her heritage that she shared with us.
The First Nations Breast Cancer Society was founded by Jacqueline Davis. A volunteer non-profit organization that is registered in the Province of British Columbia since July 04, 1995. It’s mandate is to offer breast cancer education and support to First Nations women. Jacqueline Davis has spearheaded and Produced, Echoes of The Sisters: First Nations Women: Breast Cancer video 1996. Echoes of The Sisters video won the most Public Service Award at the American Indian Film Festival-San Francisco, California, USA in 1996. Abreast In A Boat Dragon Boat Team which Jacqueline Davis was the Drummer won the David Lam trophy for good sportsmanship in Vancouver, B.C. in 1996. Jacqueline Davis spearheaded and produced the First Nations: Breast Self Examination video in 1998. In May 1999, Jacqueline Davis was recognized with the Flare Volunteer Award, Flare Magazine Canada, Canada’s Leading Fashion Magazine, for her volunteer work. In 2000 Jacqueline Davis was nominated as a National Native Role Model representing the Province of Manitoba. She and other role models were guests at Rideau Hall in Ottawa were they were honored with a dinner hosted by Her Excellency the Governor General of Canada, Adrienne Clarkson. A term they all had to serve for two years.
In 2003 Jacqueline Davis was a guest on Aboriginal Peoples Television Network’s (APTN) Live Show Contact; First Nations Breast Cancer, Questions You Have in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Jacqueline Davis was nominated for a National Aboriginal Achievement Award in 2003 and 2004. Jacqueline Davis was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) in recognition for her involvement in founding the First Nations Breast Cancer Society and for her breast cancer work.
Through a contact of Jacqueline’s, the inmates at Mountain Institution in Agassiz were encouraged to make a drum for the Abreast In A Boat dragon boat team for us to use during the Festival in our first races in 1997. It was donated with great pride by the men who made it, to Jackie, Jane Frost and Brenda Hochachka, who was the team captain. The three of us went to a ceremony in the Institution which involved sweet grass smudging, drumming and prayers. It was a very moving ceremony during which the drum was blessed as it was passed on to Abreast In A Boat as a gift.
This carving workshop was a pilot project; the brainchild of well-known carver Eric Neighbour who has taught carving to more than 4,000 people. The project originated from watching the dragon boats on race day, looking so proud with their beautiful heads and tails. Eric thought: “I bet some of those teams would like to make their own boat decorations”. Thoughts and Observations from a Member of the AIAB Carving Team
AIAB Dragon Head Carving
The Roundhouse Community Centre in Yaletown was the site chosen for this event. Four groups of tables were set up for the participating teams: Women on Water, Abreast In A Boat, The Wong Way and Gung Haggis Fat Choy. This was to be a three-hour session to decide on a design, a carving shift schedule and general questions. All I could think was “My lord those tree trunks are HUGE and how are we going to carve anything in a week with only a chisel and a wooden mallet. We hashed around some ideas, came up with a plan, and those who could draw started putting a design on paper. We chose the two logs to be carved and those of us who were better at making lists dealt with the shift schedule of 18 members. At the end of the session we had our drawings up on the wall, our logs labelled with our names, and the new box of chisels all laid out. We were excited. Well, Monday morning at 9 am sharp I was on the doorstep of the Port Moody Library getting books on “How to Carve”! Those logs were not “roughed out” like I thought they would be. Books, gloves, goggles in hand I started my first shift. Eric our instructor and master carver, was very helpful and excited himself. We found that chiseling away at the dry logs was a lot easier than expected – that is, when the mallet hit the chisel instead of our hands! This was not true though when we came across a knot. The sawing part was definitely an aerobic workout. CBC Television filmed and interviewed for a while and arranged to come back on Friday to see the “finished” product. I smiled at that positive thought. On Tuesday Jo, Anne and I did a marathon of seven hours with other members coming in on their shifts. We were really starting to get the hang of this. The basic shapes were starting to happen and the detailed designs drawn on the logs. Chris had brought in a fabulous drawing of the head with measurements included – obviously the artists in the group.
Carving of the AIAB Dragon Head
Over the course of the next three days absolutely wonderful things started to happen. We went from “Oh my – 8 hours of chiselling and we’ve only cut out a 10-12 inch two-by-four at one end” to extravagant designs we never thought possible. As each person started her new shift it was so exciting to see what had been done the day or two before. Scales, fins, eyes, tails were all forming to the delight of everyone. The fancy chisels were out now along with files and other objects that looked impressive to me. The friendship that had formed between the four dragon boat teams was very noticeable when I went back on Friday night, our last night. The almost completed dragon head and tail then went home to be finished with ears, horns, special marine paint and varnish.
In 2005 Abreast In A Boat celebrated their 10 year anniversary. They invited breast cancer survivors from around the world to join them for a wonderful weekend of camaraderie, merriment and, of course, dragon boat racing.
Jeannie Lea’s Creators
At the Sunday afternoon closing ceremonies Michelle Hanton of Dragons Abreast Australia, announced that in two years time we could all gather again in Caloundra which is near Brisbane Australia.
The excitement among our crews was palpable. We knew we wanted to make a good showing. Plans began to be made. It was the idea of Barb Lea that we should make a dragon that all our crews could walk with during the street parade.
The idea grew, and with the skill and expertise of Jean Driscoll Bell and her merry band of AIAB helpers, our dragon was assembled on August 26 2007.
Creating Jeannie Lea
Jeannie Lea walked proudly in Australia and has walked with our members on many occasions since.
Barb had the idea and Jean made it a reality. There was no other name that our dragon could have.
A Legacy Garden: A Place to Remember and to Celebrate Sally Haugen, AIAB Alumna and Sunshine Dragons Abreast, Sechelt, British Columbia, Canada
Ten years ago Abreast In A Boat (AIAB) paddlers Sandy Smith, Sharon Eakins, Jane Frost and I went to Toronto to participate in the 2001 Dragons Abreast Festival and Conference. Sharon and I attended an important workshop on remembering those whom we have lost to breast cancer. It was led by Doug Graydon, an Anglican priest who had worked with HIV/AIDS patients. We came home thinking what could we do to remember paddlers we had lost?
AIAB Garden in 2012
AIAB Garden, 2012
We walked every inch of the shores of False Creek, the waterway in Vancouver where this breast cancer dragon boat paddling started. We thought about placing a bench there. We thought about public art. We pictured a series of bronzed dragon boat seats with paddlers in all the seats but one. Then reality set in. There were no bench sites left in False Creek. The cost of an interactive statue was prohibitive. The approval process for public art was overwhelming so we wandered back to Alder Bay in False Creek, where we launch our boats. And there, right in Alder Bay, we realized the perfect spot for a Legacy Garden was the grassy knoll overlooking our dock. It even had fuchsia rhododendrons in the spring. With the support of the Vancouver Parks Board we were able to place a plaque in “our” garden and to this day the garden continues to sprout pink and fuchsia flowers.
The plaque reads: “Abreast In A Boat.” OUR RACE AGAINST BREAST CANCER “In April 1996, here in Alder Bay, 24 women who had been treated for breast cancer slipped into a dragon boat and together raised their paddles for the first time. A legend was born. A lively, vigorous sport has become a passion for those who have experienced this disease all around the world.”
“The Legacy Garden is dedicated to the paddlers, their families and friends, the sponsors and the community who have given unstinting support.”
We return frequently to remember our paddling friends, sadly far too many of them, including Sandy Smith and Sharon Eakins.
We also celebrate as this photograph illustrates. This spring Dr. Don McKenzie is pictured with AIAB crew members who were celebrating ten years since they began paddling together. A time and place to reconnect with old friends and to celebrate the happy moments. I understand Dragons Abreast (Toronto) remembers their friends with a memorial bench in Humber Park West. Have other teams found ways to remember?