Driver's Side: Swil Kanim

Driver's Side: Swil Kanim

Concert Violinist

I drive the deadliest road in Whatcom County, in Bellingham. For some time, I was the only driver in North Bellingham, where there’s a casino. I decided not to set my destination for the casino, but to provide a presence up there so when people turn on their app, they can find a ride.

Everything I’ve done in my adult life has been to contribute toward healing a childhood wound. I was taken away from my tribe. I’m saying this without guilt or trying to shame anybody, but I was raised in a racist home away from my reservation. Their bigotry was backed up by institutional power. That’s what racism is, right? 

My life has been about creating opportunities for people to connect. As an entertainer, an actor, a comedian, a violinist, a composer, everything I’ve ever done has been about that. Even as a drill sergeant in the U.S. Army. There’s nothing more connecting to me than bringing someone from point A to point B. It fulfills some core values of mine. 

Driving has changed my relationship to everything. My name, Swil Kanim, means “pulls or works for the spirit of the people.” That’s what I do. As an Uber driver-partner, I don’t work for Uber. I work for the spirit of the people. Uber’s just my platform.

What we need in the world is more connection. There’s no doubt about it. We need people to have access. I picked up a lady who had an electric wheelchair. It was heavy, but I lifted it up and put it in my trunk. 

What we need in the world is more connection. There’s no doubt about it.

When I offered her the phone charger, I saw her crying. She told me, “This is my fourth Uber trip, and they just keep getting better and better.” She explained, “For the first time since I was in a car accident years ago, I’m experiencing freedom.” I said, “I’m a U.S. Army veteran. I put my life on the line for freedom, and you’re giving me an opportunity to experience that here, too.” We shared a tearful moment and then started the trip.

The canoe behind me is a traditional family canoe with a purpose and intention. It has everything that you would want for the journey, to carry people in an energy-efficient way. My job is to take care of my car in the same way that my ancestors took care of canoes. To me, that’s what Uber provides. When I drive, I’m the skipper of a canoe. The spirit of whoever rides in my canoe becomes a part of it.

Photo: David Keller

People | Place | Community