Celebration Of Aboriginal Day Of Wellness

Oly Bent sang a Welcome Song as he played his hand drum at the Aboriginal Day of Wellness Celebration.
Oly Bent sang a Welcome Song as he played his hand drum at the Aboriginal Day of Wellness Celebration.

Joining with people of other cultures and traditions can be a delightful, soul enriching experience. When the Upper Similkameen Indian Band recently posted an invitation to its celebration of Aboriginal Day of Wellness, Linda and I knew immediately we wanted to be there. We thought it would be a low key affair, with the possibility of getting to know some band members. It was a pleasant surprise to learn there would be a formal program and a sumptuous sit down meal.

We didn’t anticipate the congenial, up beat, fun atmosphere. Plenty of smiles made it clear these people had come to have a good time. Even more important to us, a number of band members gave us a warm welcome.

The event took place last Wednesday at the USIB’s Centre on Snaza’ist Street on the periphery of Hedley. Fifty two enthusiastic guests attended, including a number of children and youths, plus at least half a dozen individuals from the Hedley community. We were impressed by the way the evening’s activities were ably coordinated by Shauna Fox, head of the band’s Home and Health Care program.

Shauna Fox, organizer of the event.
Shauna Fox, organizer of the event.

Prior to the meal, band member Oly Bent offered a reverential, heartfelt prayer of gratitude to the Creator. He followed this with a traditional welcome song, accompanying himself on a hand drum.

Oly Bent with his hand drum.
Oly Bent with his hand drum.

In a lively, well received talk, Clint Holmes explained how he had dug a pit, lined it with rocks and cooked the moose and elk that were on the menu. He said he had assisted with pit cooking twice in the past, but this was his first time doing it alone.

Clint Holmes described the pit cooking process.
Clint Holmes described the pit cooking process.

Guests were invited to select from an elaborate array of dishes, consisting of traditional Indigenous cuisine, laid out on a large table. Along with other elders, the small Hedley contingent was served by 2 congenial young men, Kelly and Kennedy Fox-Zacharias. Respectful and competent, these clean cut young men introduced themselves and made us feel honoured. They would almost certainly be coveted by any high class, big city restaurant.

Shauna Fox explained later it is an aboriginal custom to serve elders first. The young servers delivered to each guest a platter laden generously with Aboriginal style chili, topped with chopped lettuce and tomatoes, sour cream and salsa, all on a slice of delicious, mouth watering fried bread. The bread had been prepared by much loved and respected local elder, Carrie Allison, wife of departed Chief Slim Allison. The frying, which required 6 hours of intensive labour in a hot kitchen, was done by Mary Allison under Carrie’s guidance.

Of particular fascination for Linda and me, and the other Hedley attendees seated at our table, was the soap berry ice cream (sxuxm), also made by Carrie. We learned from her that the main ingredient is soap berries, which can be picked, usually at higher altitudes, in the Similkameen Valley. Water and sugar are added and this concoction is whipped into a delightful, crowd pleasing dessert. A couple of Hedley citizens were observed enjoying a second, rather generous helping of the ice cream at the close of the event.

One lucky guest, Brenda Wagner, was pleased to win a 19 inch television in a draw. We were surprised when Linda’s name was drawn for a high quality barbeque. We’ve never had much luck in draws. Linda has decided she will donate the barbeque back to the band for its own use or as a fund raiser. Several children also won prizes.

As people were leaving, a happy buzz suggested they felt they had participated in a significant, joyous event. Certainly that was the sentiment of the Hedley people. We had been graciously and respectfully received.

I have come to think of celebrating a special day with another culture as a privilege and an education. In this case it was an opportunity to come to a deeper understanding of who our neighbours are and what they value. I respect their fervent desire to pass on their traditions, customs, values, history and wisdom to future generations. In society generally, there often isn’t this understanding that it’s important to retain what has been learned and taught by elders.

With continued effort, good will and willingness, events like Aboriginal Day of Wellness could further strengthen the relationship between the band and the Hedley community. As we celebrate 150 years of nationhood, it’s a good time to become better acquainted with our neighbours.

Larry McIntosh Influenced Hedley Fire Department

Some members of the Hedley Fire Department at practise (Larry McIntosh not on this photo).
Some members of the Hedley Fire Department at practise (Larry McIntosh not on this photo).

In 1976, on my first visit to Hedley, I watched with fascination as firefighters, clad in jeans and t-shirts, ran to put out a chimney fire. They were pulling a 2 wheeled cart laden with a firehose. They had plenty of grit, but scant equipment or training.

Some years later, Linda and I moved to Hedley and I was able to observe the development of the Fire Department. The community made a bold move into the 20th century in 1984 when it acquired a 1973 Ford firetruck. Because house fires were scarce, the truck was used mainly to douse occasional chimney fires and for practise. Its mileage remained almost static and we had little thought of upgrading. Why pay higher taxes for a new truck we didn’t need?

Our complacent thinking received a rude shock when the insurance underwriters informed us our well preserved truck must be replaced, or our premiums would rise sharply. Many in the community felt we should look for a suitable used truck. The fire department argued for a new one. In two referendums we turned down the purchase of a new truck. Then, when we went to renew our home insurance, we experienced premium sticker shock. In a third referendum we meekly bowed to the will of the all powerful underwriters and voted to buy a new fire truck. This marked the beginning of a remarkable transformation in the department.

After talking recently with Derek Lilly, a former Fire Chief, current Assistant Chief Doug Nimchuk, and retired Fire Department Manager, Graham Gore, I’ve concluded that one individual provided the primary impetus for the high standard now evident in the Hedley Fire Department.

Larry McIntosh settled in Hedley in about 2002. He had earlier been employed by the Delta Ambulance Service, when it was still combined with the Fire Department. He had also been Unit Chief of the Princeton Ambulance Service. He was currently working for the Forestry Wild Fire Service in summers, in charge of Logistics. His experience and skill level were impressive, and he was named Hedley’s Assistant Fire Chief. Using his wide range of training and expertise, he began making significant changes.

Larry laid the base for what we have today,” Doug Nimchuk told me. Graham agreed. “He had been involved in combating pretty much every major fire in B.C. Larry brought a high level of professionalism. He built training records and operational records. He instituted truck inspections and standardized turnout gear.”

Larry trained our First Medical Responders,” Doug said. “He raised the service to a high level. I accompanied him on a number of calls. He was confident and competent.”

Larry could be thoroughly practical. At one house fire there was a need for ventilation. He threw bricks and stones through the windows. He was known to say, “just give me water! Surround and drown!” At one fire only 26 inches separated the burning home from the adjacent building. Following Larry’s teaching, firefighters maintained a constant stream of water in the narrow space and the second structure was saved.

By the time Larry’s employment no longer permitted him to give much attention locally, he had trained others and established sound procedures. He apparently understood clearly he would be most effective, not by attracting more followers, but by developing more leaders. “He taught me almost everything I know,” Graham said. “Without his teaching and personal attention, I could not have been manager of the department.”

Larry didn’t seek recognition. He wanted to teach, raise standards and hand over responsibilities to the next generation. Graham, in his time as department manager, has sought to maintain Larry’s systems and his high standard of fire fighting and First Responder excellence.

End view of our house after fire burned the house next door
End view of our house after fire burned the house next door

Seven years ago the home next to ours burned to the ground on New Years Eve. It was a cold night and there was plenty of ice. Under the Command of Larry McIntosh, the Hedley Firefighters, with assistance from Keremeos, saved our home and the home on the other side. The new truck and the skill, training and discipline of the firefighters prevented what could have been a disastrous fire all along our block.

Before passing away unexpectedly on June 3rd of this year, Larry McIntosh played a key role in raising the Hedley Fire Department to a much higher level. Thanks to him, Graham, Doug and all the dedicated firefighters, our little community has a fire department we can be proud of.

Dave Cursons, Not Ready To Slow Down

Dave Cursons of Dumplingdale Organic Farm, Cawston, BC
Dave Cursons of Dumplingdale Organic Farm, Cawston, BC

An initial encounter with Dave Cursons of Cawston might lead to an assumption he’s a university prof, deeply immersed in lecturing and ivory tower research. His white beard and quiet, unassuming demeanor could point us in that direction. It would be a hugely incorrect conclusion, however. For many years he’s been a powerhouse in issues important to the Similkameen Valley, sometimes taking the lead, at other times working behind the scenes. Now 70, he still gladly rolls up his sleeves and gets his hands dirty, so to speak.

Born in New Westminster in 1947, he experienced most of the years of the Cold War, which threatened to erupt on a number of occasions into an atomic cataclysm. “In school,” he recalls, “we were told that if we saw a flash, we should dive into a ditch. As a child and a youth, it frightened me. I didn’t expect to live past 25.”

For many years he has been active in the Peace Movement and for 34 years has participated in the Mother’s Day March to the Canada-U.S. border. “My views on war were probably shaped by Ben Ankrum, an elderly WWI veteran who during the 1930’s spoke on Armistice Day at my mother’s school. He was a family friend and when I was 8 or 10 made quite an impression.”

One thing Mr. Ankrum said remains indelibly etched in his memory. “He told us as long as there is an arms buildup, there will be war. He was outspoken on militarism and he was right. Mr. Ankrum always wore a beret.” Dave paused for a moment, then said, “It just occurred to me that I often do too. An influence for sure.”

Dave Cursons often wears a beret.
Dave Cursons often wears a beret.

As a youth Dave became a Boy Scout and also joined the National Survival Program. “I was a marksman and I enjoyed martial music,” he said. “We did a lot of marching.” A mischievous smile briefly touched his face. “I wasn’t in step though and the Sergeant said I looked like a pregnant water buffalo.”

In 1995 he met Gabriele, his wife, across the table at a forestry seminar. “We were both outspoken,” he said. “Our views differed but that didn’t matter. She was from Germany and had become a farmer in Cawston. We bought an acreage and named it the Dumplingdale Organic Farm. We grow produce for the farmers market in Penticton. Gabriele is the farmer. I’m an occasional field hand.”

Dave’s interests are wide ranging. He talked about the history of trails and roads in what is now The Crowsnest Route. “The grade couldn’t be more than 12 per cent or it was too steep for a horse drawn wagon.”

In high school Dave’s favourite subject was social studies. The Crusades and the Riel Rebellion especially intrigued him. In grade 11, in a Bible history course, he became aware of the Jewish Pentateuch. “It provides information about some of the issues we are grappling with today. An example is the notion that we are not of this earth and the earth isn’t that friendly.”

His first year at UVic didn’t go well. “I enrolled in Latin because it seemed to me a base for history, a key to understanding who we are. Academically I was a flop. I failed the Latin course. I took a year off and worked on a railway crew, building bridges and snow sheds.”

Dave later graduated as an English literature major from UBC. He subsequently worked many years as a probation officer and then as a family court counselor. “When I retired, it was to our little farm in Cawston,” he said.

Retirement for Dave is fulfilling. He provided leadership in the development of the Cawston Players and is still active with them. He also works a few hours a week counseling youth. “In counseling one needs to gain trust,” he said. “It’s very encouraging for me to spend time with children. I think that from them we get a clearer view of the world.”

Dave joined the B.C. Green Party when it was formed in 1983 and has been a candidate 3 times in the 80’s and 90’s. In the recent provincial campaign he served as campaign manager for the local Green candidate.

How would he like to finish the race? “I’d like to grow wise,” he answered, “but I’m not sure I know how.” Dave Cursons, you may be closer than you realize.

Redemption Of Two Abused Boys

Shayne & Jennifer with Curtis & Dallas, April 2006.
Shayne & Jennifer with Curtis & Dallas, April 2006.

Having observed first hand the way abused children often turn out as adults, I’ve come to consider their redemption as virtually miraculous. This was certainly my conclusion after Jennifer told Linda and me the story of Dallas and Kurtis, the young sons of Shayne, her second husband. I feel her account might be of interest and benefit to others.

Shayne was a trucker,” she began. “He wasn’t home enough to look after the boys and their 2 half- sisters, so they were living with their mother Cassia. There was a lot of alcohol in the home and Cassia’s boyfriend was abusive to her.”

Jennifer’s face grew serious as she continued. “Cassia moved her family into a house with 16 people. Then she moved out on her own again, accompanied by the boyfriend. The boys’ family life was chaotic and we suspected they were being abused. We thought the boyfriend might be a crack addict. I decided we couldn’t just stand by and watch their lives being destroyed.”

There was conviction in her voice and I sensed her keenly honed understanding of right and wrong. “We got permission to take the boys to our home for 3 weeks. This became a pattern for some time. Their bodies were usually bruised when they came. We always took them to be examined by a doctor when they arrived and before we returned them. The boys feared repercussions if they talked about their home life so they kept quiet about that.”

During one visit, Shayne became troubled by something Cassia was planning for the boys. He threatened to not return them. A few days later, Cassia and a friend arrived from Prince George with a court order for their return. They waited down the street while the police went to enforce the order. The boys cried. Kurtis sat on the step and said, “I’m not going back!” “It was a terrible day for the boys and for us. We were powerless to prevent it.”

When the boys were 5 and 6, Cassia agreed to let them live with Jennifer and Shayne for one year. Three weeks after arriving, they began to divulge the mental, emotional and physical abuse they had endured. “Things were bad with Dallas,” Jennifer recalls, “he was diagnosed with FAS and ADHD. Being older, he had seen and experienced more.”

Both boys were enrolled in counselling, with a good deal of play therapy. In their own way, each arrived at a unique understanding. One day the counsellor invited Jennifer into the play room and pointed to a play house. Opening the doors to the little house, she said, “Kurtis removed all the furniture and people. He even tore out the carpets.” The counsellor explained that when he had completed gutting the house he shut the doors and said, “I’m moving out. I’m done.” He was leaving his old life and memories behind.

About 7 months after the boys moved in with Jennifer and Shayne, Dallas asked them and also Jenae, Jennifer’s daughter, to sit in the living room. Then he quite formally addressed them all. “Cassia isn’t our Mom anymore,” he pronounced. From now on we’ll call her Cassia. Jennifer is our Mom.”

After the agreed upon year, Cassia didn’t show up in court to contest an application to give Shayne full custody and Jennifer guardianship over the boys. Since then Dallas has many times asked to see these papers, wanting assurance he and Kurtis would not be returned.

Cassia has never even asked about them in our occasional telephone conversations,” Jennifer said. “Recently she did request to speak with them. Dallas absolutely refused. Kurtis reluctantly agreed, but only by phone.” As the day for Cassia’s call approached, he wanted Jennifer to tell her he had changed his mind. Wanting him to grow strong, Jennifer told him, “I can’t protect you anymore. You’ll have to tell her yourself.” Cassia didn’t call.

Shayne, Dallas, Jennifer & Curtis in 2016
Shayne, Dallas, Jennifer & Curtis in 2016

Dallas is now 18 and has completed his first year in a construction electrical program. He is apprenticing with an electrical contractor. Kurtis is 17 and enrolled in an architectural drafting course.

Dallas summed up their experience recently. “If you hadn’t rescued us, we’d have lived in foster homes and on the streets. I’d be in jail.”

The redemption of Dallas and Kurtis came only with Jennifer and Shayne’s love, patience, and unwavering commitment. It is indeed a miracle.