(From left to right) Nancy Pat Charlie, Chief James Hobart and Maggie Pettis are spearheading an initiative to bring cultural teachings to local First Nations during the four seasons. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

Seabird Island hosts cultural sharing event

The pilot project is designed to help establish safe communities in a traditional way

This Thursday and Friday, five First Nations bands will gather at Seabird Island to say goodbye to what the summer has brought.

“It’s a jam-packed two days,” Spuzzum Chief James Hobart said, “saying goodbye to what summer has brought to us in a good way, and sending it back and embracing fall.”

Over the course of the two days, attendees will come together to share songs and dances, as well as join panel discussions on environmental issues and celebrate traditional ceremonies.

The event is part of a pilot project called Xyolhemethet lexw awtexw (take care always of the home), a collaboration between the Boothroyd, Peters, Seabird, Spuzzum and Sts’ailes bands to create safe spaces for cultural sharing.

SEE ALSO: Seabird Island unveils welcome figures for recovery homes

“There’s been great efforts of trying to meet the needs of our First Nations people for children and family services,” Patricia Charlie, Sts’ailes matriarch and founding initiative member, explained.

“We recognize culture is the biggest part of this that’s not been given the attention to put that into place where it does help our people.”

When Xyolhemethet lexw awtexw first started in 2016, the idea was to create safe spaces for children and young adults in each community, identified by a mark or sign on the door, where they could go to get support and encouragement. Eventually, that idea evolved into what Charlie calls a “cultural door,” with a joint gathering between the five nations, with support from the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

“Today we recognize that it’s a cultural door with the four seasons, so that our people can come together as nations to respect and honour each other, to help one another, to combat all the ill effects that’s really devastating our communities.”

The idea of bringing the four seasons into the cultural sharing has created a new gathering for the First Nations, where they can come four times a year to share each band’s traditions for the season.

The first event, held in May of this year at Boothroyd, celebrated spring.

The response was better than expected, with around 200 people of all ages showing up to experience the gathering.

This Thursday and Friday (Sept. 12 and 13), the same bands will gather once again to celebrate the end of summer. This time, the event will take place at Seabird Island, and touch on some of the major developments the summer has brought: environmental impacts from things like the Trans Mountain pipeline, and particularly the decline in the salmon runs.

RELATED: Many salmon now passing Fraser River slide on their own, DFO says

“That’s going to be big, especially this year with the Big Bar slide,” Hobart explained.

The event will include traditional foods, as well as singing and dancing from all the nations.

“It’s a natural part of who we are as First Nations people of this land,” Charlie said. “It might be a little bit different where James is at (in the Fraser Canyon), or different from Seabird to us, but when we come together, we honour each other for the things we each bring to that gathering.”

The event will also end on an uplifting note, with a traditional baby ceremony honouring the new lives being welcomed into the different bands.

“I’m hoping … the feeling they might take away from it is that they’ve seen a glimpse of the past, or at least people trying to recreate the past, to live it,” Hobart said about the event. “Not to just show it, but to live it.”

Although the Four Seasons series of gatherings is geared towards the five nations, anyone can participate. (They just need to register by calling one of the First Nations before attending.)

“We’re not trying to have people walk away feeling guilty that they were part of the other side of the coin,” Hobart said. “It’s more of just the education part, having them feel like they’re one step further to just understanding us.”

RELATED: Sts’ailes, Harrison welcome first nation flag as permanent part of the village

According to Seabird Island’s Maggie Pettis, the Ministry of Children and Family Development has been one of the groups doing just that.

“We have a great working relationship with them and I truly believe that they are being accountable to the truth and reconciliation that’s been promised to us as First Nation communities,” Pettis said.

“It’s truly amazing the dedication that they are willing to see positive changes and especially in relation to our cultural values.”

Summer won’t be the last event in the Four Seasons project. A fall gathering is scheduled for Nov. 7 and 8 at the Spuzzum First Nation, while the final winter event will be held at Sts’ailes.

Although it’s only the first year, Charlie, Hobart and Pettis all hope the Four Seasons events will continue into the future, and help build community bridges between the nations.

“It’s a prayer answered from our First Nations people, our elders especially,” Charlie explained, “that we could go back to the ways when we can work together, to help each other, to respect one another according to the seven laws of life:” health, happiness, generations, generosity, humility, understanding and forgiveness.

“We’re thankful that we were able to hold on to some of that,” she continued, “where we can celebrate as a people and bring back pride and dignity.”



grace.kennedy@ahobserver.com

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