A First Nations child protection services in Williams Lake held their first cultural event of the year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Approximately 12 elders and 15 children who were joined with their caregivers attended the Xat’sull Heritage Village on Sunday, July 19.
Speaking their traditional Secwepemc language, Knucwentwecw Society executive director Arlene Adie said the elders walked the children through traditional pit cooking and how it is currently done differently as in years past in which aluminum foil was not used.
“It’s always very important to pass that knowledge on,” she said. “It’s instilling that pride in culture in youth and coming from elders — it’s just very special.”
Once the salmon, onions, carrots and potatoes were put into the pit and left to cook for several hours from the heat of the stones, Adie said the elders continued providing knowledge by sharing a traditional medicine teaching.
Two First Nations dancers including a male fancy dancer and female jingle dress dancer also spoke of their regalia and history before performing a dance demonstration.
“Sitting and listening to elders is always an honor and because of what we’ve been going through with COVID-19 we just haven’t had the opportunity to do so,” Adie said.
“Probably the hardest thing was not hugging.”
With the pandemic increasing feelings of loneliness and isolation for many, Adie added the Society felt it was safe enough to hold such an event to provide a boost.
“I did get that comment from several of the elders that were there that it was nice just to get out and being able to do it outside everybody felt safe.”
Meaning to ‘help each other’ in Secwepemc, Knucwentwecw Society was formed in 1995 and normally holds such cultural events each year with elders and youth whether it be on gathering and making traditional medicine such as sage or swamp tea, and fishing or hunting trips.
Adie said they hope to be able to hold a hunting trip in September where they will camp at the Whispering Willows campsite north of Williams Lake.
With Knucwentwecw Society since 2008 after previously working with B.C’s Ministry of Children and Family Development, Adie identifies herself as non-Indigenous and calls it an honor to be able to attend such events and serve First Nations families.
“I’m really looking to the future as far as First Nations jurisdiction over children and families goes, and they’re pursuing that,” she said, noting a recent agreement signed by the Government of Canada and Assembly of First Nations to overhaul the current Indigenous Child Family Services system.
“Eventually all of our services will transition in some form out to the communities. Delegated agencies were always an interim step towards that full jurisdiction, so we’re getting to a place now where it’s really starting to feel tangible.”