A mixed audience of adults and teenagers listened with rapt attention in the gathering hall at the Cottonwood Community Centre last week.
Anyone who's been a teacher knows it's not easy to get teens to sit still and stop talking. But on this day there was no trouble as they heard Kevin Brooks, who sat in a wheelchair at the front of the room, tell the story of how he ended up that way.
It was just one of a number of activities that happened as part of the second annual Winds of Change Wellness Gathering, an event aimed at raising awareness of health resources available throughout the Pemberton Valley and building a strong relationship between Pemberton and Mount Currie.
And for Mount Currie elder Mary Ann Narcisse, the initiative has been key to lowering barriers between Pemberton and its aboriginal neighbours to the east.
"Before we were separated, we didn't know each other," she said. "When I was a little kid, I knew everybody in Pemberton, and then the last 30 years, we hardly knew each other, we didn't seem like we were neighbours, so this is helping, I think."
Kevin Brooks's story has a loose parallel with that of the Winds of Change. He was a thrillseeker as a youth, looking for his next adrenaline fix through activities like hockey, skateboarding and snowboarding.
One day he made a stupid decision: he drove drunk, killing his best friend Brendon and ending up paralyzed himself from the chest down.
But tragedy brought Brooks a new beginning. He now travels Canada and the United States telling the same story over and over as a way to teach young people about the dangers of making bad decisions when it comes to drugs and alcohol.
The Winds of Change, meanwhile, began as a joint initiative between the Village of Pemberton and the Mount Currie Band of the Lil'wat Nation, but has since grown to include organizations including the N'Quatqua Band, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, the RCMP and the Sea to Sky School District.
The initiative was borne out of an incident that saw a Mount Currie youth killed in an alcohol-fuelled altercation in Pemberton nine years ago.
Participants in the initiative have looked to move beyond that incident, putting together a vision for a new relationship between the communities of Pemberton and Mount Currie that has them looking for ways to reduce the harmful impacts of drugs and alcohol throughout the valley.
Their efforts resulted in the formation of the "healing vision," a four-pronged strategy completed in 2004 that included recommendations around promoting healthy lifestyle choices, increasing awareness of wellness resources, improving health services and community leadership and responsibility.
One of the recommendations was putting together the wellness gathering, which draws hundreds of people from Mount Currie and Pemberton every year. This year's gathering invited students from Xit'olacw Community School in Mount Currie and Pemberton Secondary School for the motivational talk from Kevin Brooks, as well as a free lunch, workshops and trade shows all oriented around wellness.
Another recommendation was creating more recreational and leisure infrastructure, a goal that was met with the completion this year of a skateboard park next to the community centre.
The skate park wasn't an idea that flowed solely from Winds of Change, but as Sheldon Tetreault, an early proponent of Winds of Change told it, it was certainly an important development in providing youth with more options for recreational activities.
"As a community we have to continue to try to build these kinds of options for youth," he said.
"We have every local government, every service organization in the health and social services in this valley on our committee. When we say we support an initiative or proposal going forward, that means a lot to that funder, because they've got the support of all these groups behind them."
Susie Gimse, a councillor with the Village of Pemberton and director for Area C of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, agreed that providing recreational options for youth is important.
"We have known here in this community, all of us... that there just was not enough for youth to do," she said.
"The skateboard park, (and) the water park are absolutely initiatives that have been ... supported by local government because you have to remember the skateboard park had a tremendous amount of support from community members."
And what's next for Winds of Change, now that recreational amenities have arrived? Gimse suggests they might not be done.
"I think it's incumbent on all three of the communities to work together and identify the recreation priorities and work towards getting it done," she said.
Winds of Change Award Winners announced
The Winds of Change Wellness Gathering also handed out awards to various community members in Pemberton, Mount Currie and Area C.
Recipients of the North Wind Award, for promoting healthy lifestyle choices, included Dr. Hugh Fisher for Pemberton; Clara John and Barry Dan for N'Quatqua; and Delores Los for Area C.
Shannon Ellis of the Pemberton Public Library received the South Wind Award for increasing awareness of health resources around the Pemberton Valley.
Marie Abraham from Mount Currie accepted the East Wind Award on behalf of the Southern Stl'atl'imx Health Society, which was recognized for helping to improve health services.
The West Wind handed out awards to both a community group and an individual for community leadership and responsibility. Pemberton Young Life, represented by Dave and Tessa Treadway, received the group award, while James Linklater received the individual award.