The path to reconciliation looks a lot like a mountain bike trail to Thomas Schoen.
Schoen is the CEO of First Journey Trails, a trail-building company, and the director of trails and parks development for the Indigenous Youth Mountain Biking Program.
In May, for what is the fifth time, Schoen led Thompson Rivers University (TRU) students from Kamloops on a week-long field school to Williams Lake, other parts of the surrounding area and then down to Simpcw First Nation to connect with some First Nations culture, history, communities and trail and tourism-related projects. The field school was for third or fourth year students in Tourism Management or Adventure Studies.
The trip began with camping at Xat’sull, with a day checking out and doing some work on the Soda Creek trail system. In the evening, while the students sat around a campfire, they engaged in a discussion around reconciliation with Michael Moses, city councillor for Williams Lake and an Indigenous man.
“That’s right up my alley,” said Moses.
He was invited to speak to the group about Indigenous culture, history, business and reconciliation itself.
“It was pretty heartwarming that they were eager to learn about the topic,” he said.
He felt like the discussion helped shift some ideas for the students, some of whom were foreign students, about how and why Canada is the way it is and how to be better allies to Indigenous peoples.
Moses said they touched on a lot of areas, including Indigenous-owned businesses, which he sees as an important part of reconciliation because it can provide equity and land title and give equal grounding in economic development.
Moses said he gained a lot of positivity and hope that “people are wanting to learn more” because so much of reconciliation is self-education.
“Their questions made me really have a lot of inward thought,” said Moses.
The following day, the students were at Desous Mountain, camping out at the recreation site. The group was still talking about their conversation with Moses, many saying they felt like they could have talked to him much longer.
“His gentle approach really impacted a lot of them,” said Bridget Orsetti, an assistant teaching professor for the adventure studies program at TRU.
“He really gave them some grace,” she said of how he helped the students recognize how they themselves are showing up and participating in reconciliation by taking the time to learn and ask questions.
”It’s going to sit with me for a very long time,” said Sam Beavers, one of the TRU students, about the conversation with Moses, with students noting his openness made them want to learn more.
At Desous, Beth Holden, the regional economic and community development officer for the Cariboo Regional District and Schoen’s partner, met with the students and talked about the importance of trails in the region.
Holden talked about relationship-building and how her role helps enable businesses to use her as a touch point to engage with different communities and groups because she has built those relationships across the region.
The entire group was then heading out to check out some of the trails, on mountain bikes.
While some of the group were experienced mountain bikers, some were completely new to the sport, and the field school helped expand their ideas around the sport.
“I’m feeling this kind of connection,” said Sevariddhi Ramaswamy Pandian, a student from India. She said the program opened her eyes to how much more there is to the sport than big jumps and men wearing pads and full-face helmets.
From Desous, Schoen was taking the group to Big Bar Guest Ranch, where in an interesting twist of events, the ranch did not have anyone there to staff it due to losing the managers who had been operating the business.
The students made due with staying at the unstaffed facility and continued on with the program. In the end, the young student from India, Sevariddhi RP, applied for the vacant management position after loving the area so much.
She will be getting settled into her new role and learning on the job as she helps reopen the guest ranch for the season.
After Big Bar, the group headed down to Simpcw First Nation, near Barriere which developed a trail network in the community and hosted the first ever Indigenous Mountain Bike Film Festival last year with First Journey Trails and the Indigenous Youth Mountain Bike Program.