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Winds of Change: Where do they blow from here?

Seven years after Mount Currie youth beaten to death program has improved relations but needs new energy

The spirit of Ross Leo haunts the Pemberton Valley.

Seven years ago the Mount Currie youth was killed in a booze-fuelled beating near the Pemberton liquor store, in a popular drinking hangout then known as "the jungle."

The death of the 15-year-old hockey player shocked the First Nation community so deeply that grieving locals came before both Mount Currie and Pemberton councils demanding action.

The result was Winds of Change, a joint task force between the Mount Currie Band and the Village of Pemberton that sought to get to the bottom of drug- and alcohol-fuelled behaviour in both communities. A 2004 report outlined 13 recommendations the committee could investigate with the purpose of examining drug- and alcohol-related issues.

This year the committee marks its five-year anniversary and some members wonder if it's making a difference anymore.

Last week Sheldon Tetreault, a former administrator for the Mount Currie Band and now director of governance advisory services with the National Centre for First Nations Governance, asked in a letter to the editor whether Winds of Change has been a story of success or failure.

"In April 2009 both councils were asked this very question," he said. "They were also asked if the political commitment existed to continue. There was a strong response supporting the Winds of Change vision, however, both councils agreed that a time to regroup was required to give the Winds of Change some new energy."

Speaking in an interview with Pique last week, Tetreault said he has a hard time saying how far Winds of Change has progressed in implementing the 13 recommendations that are outlined in its guiding document.

"I think the initiative has never been funded, it's always relied on one-time grants," he said. "Sometimes it's hard to muster up resources to broach activities, some of the activities are listed as recommendations, things that take years and years to complete.

"For example, the Pemberton-Mount Currie Friendship Trail was one of the recommendations. To work on things like that, and there was some movement to do that, and that was a project, if it's going to go ahead, would take years of negotiation with CN Rail to make that happen."

Despite his concerns about where it can go from here, Tetreault believes Winds of Change has some successful elements about it. He said the fact it exists at all is an achievement in itself, and that such co-operation between a municipal government and a neighbouring First Nation is rare.

"I travel all around, all over Canada a lot working with First Nations," he said. "It is so rare to see any kind of a committee that tackles social issues like this, that broaches the reserve-municipal divide. It's been highlighted by the Union of British Columbia Municipalities at a number of their conferences. They've pointed it out as best practice."

Maxine Bruce, a councillor with the Mount Currie Band who has sat on the committee herself, said "relations-building" has been one of the biggest successes of the Winds of Change task force. She pointed to ElderGO! as a direct result of committee efforts. It's a service that transports Lil'wat elders around the valley.

"The administrators of both the Village of Pemberton and the Lil'wat Nation have been putting a lot of time and effort into the programs," she said. "These skilled staff members that we have working for us listen to our concerns about people getting to meet with each other.

"Now our neighbouring tribe, the N'Quatqua, can travel to Pemberton with limited amount of cost, limited amount of effort, just to either meet their friends living in Pemberton or travel through Mount Currie and be able to do their shopping."

Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy said Winds of Change has made a "tremendous difference" in the relationship with Mount Currie. After the task force was struck, Pemberton council began meeting with the band council every couple of months in joint meetings and he said that has been invaluable in developing a relationship.

"You get a better understanding of each other," he said. "I don't think there's any question. That was one of the recommendations of the Winds of Change and we took it and ran with it."

The future of Winds of Change may be decided Oct. 13 from 1:30 to 6 p.m. On that day committee members and others will gather to discuss where the task force can go from here and what goals it can accomplish. It takes place at the new Pemberton Community Centre and anyone interested in its future is invited to attend.