The feelings of anticipation, pride, hope and love were almost palpable in the crisp June air, as a group of elders, youth and community members gathered with the Nawalakw team in a secluded, culturally significant estuary of the Hada to celebrate the start of site construction for the Nawalakw Healing Center.
Slated for opening in Spring 2021, the centre will have capacity for 24 students, their teachers, and up to 12 support staff. Nawalakw will host cultural programming, and become a place where Kwak’wala, a language previously on the brink of extinction, will once again be spoken by youth and elders alike.
“Our community members have been in complete isolation from the rest of the world during COVID-19. Getting a group together for a blessing event while following all the safety protocols was a good challenge, but it was an important milestone for us to acknowledge. We invited our youth, our hereditary leadership, our elders and our ancestors to witness this significant milestone for the Nawalakw Healing Society, and for the people of our territory, because we wanted everyone to capture the spirit of hope and anticipation”, said K’odi Nelson, Nawalakw Culture Project founder and executive director. “I believe that healing for First Nations youth begins with the resurrection of our language, and pride in our cultural heritage. The kids played a really important role in blessing this project, because ultimately, this project will be transformational for them, and for their children yet unborn.”
Many First Nations young people do not grow up with that support, and instead are still dealing with the waves of intergenerational trauma that have led to broken families, and young people not having pride in who they are and where they come from. “It was clear to everyone here that it’s not too late to turn the tide. It’s not too late to ensure stewardship of our land, and it’s not too late to resurrect our culture, and create opportunities for our people.”
Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, founder of Reconciliation Canada and a member of the National Assembly of First Nations Elders Council attended the groundbreaking event. “Our rivers were never meant to be alone. We recognize the role of our land as teacher and healer, guided by our ancestors and our elders. I believe that reconciliation begins as a personal journey and then extends into our families, relationships, workplaces and eventually into our communities. The visitors who will come here will experience the unique beauty of our people and our land. But more importantly, this project will help create economic development deeply rooted in our culture and ensure our traditions live on in our young people, and for generations to come.”
The Nawalakw Healing Center already has expressions of interest for group bookings from School District 85 and other First Nations operated schools, starting spring of 2021.
Following another round of successful fundraising, Phase II of the Nawalakw Culture Project includes the development of a worldclass ecotourism resort, the proceeds of which will be used to fund ongoing language and cultural programming. A third phase includes an interpretive centre / retail space / gallery showcasing local artists, and housing for those doing land stewardship programs at Nawalakw.
Along every step, the project’s aim is to offer local employment and nurture other local businesses as it grows.