Winds of Change building bridges 

Eight years after a tragic death Pemberton, Mount Currie communities are starting to better understand one another


The Ullus Community Complex stands tall above the lower site of the Mount Currie Indian Reserve near Pemberton.

A rather non-descript building save for steel siding and carved house posts at its entrance, its sheer size accommodates a gym, cultural centre and band offices, making it the unquestionable heart of the community.

On this day, a sunny Thursday afternoon, its parking lot is filled with cars from throughout the valley, from the Village of Pemberton, D'Arcy and Mount Currie's outlying areas. They have come in a spirit of co-operation for a wellness gathering that they hope will become an annual event.

Inside, both Caucasian and aboriginal faces welcome hundreds of guests to a trade show, exhibition and dinner that are open to everyone.

This gathering is the fruit of efforts by the Winds of Change committee to bring these communities together. It's a joint initiative between the Village of Pemberton and the Mount Currie Band of the Lil'wat Nation that aims to reduce harm associated with drugs and alcohol by making health services and resources open to both communities.

It's a partnership formed from tragedy. In 2002, 15-year-old Mount Currie resident Ross Leo was beaten dead in an alcohol-fueled altercation in a wooded area near Signal Hill Elementary School. Pemberton and Mount Currie residents visited their respective councils and expressed profound sadness at the incident.

The outcry brought Pemberton and Mount Currie together to create Winds of Change in November 2004, a joint task force to look at drugs and alcohol as a shared problem for both communities.

Former Pemberton Mayor Elinor Warner and Mount Currie Councillor Joanne John were the task force's first co-chairs. The two hold joint council meetings and form a regular presence at each other's events - but participants say there's still work left to do.

Sheldon Tetreault, a former administrator with the Mount Currie Band who has been involved in Winds of Change since its beginning, said the central mandate for the committee is threefold: education, awareness and lobbying.

"The awareness-building is creating awareness that there's service available to people," he said, looking out on a gymnasium with presentations from health professionals such as massage therapists, karate instructors and representatives from the Lil'wat Wellness Centre.

"The education, like the stuff we're doing, at the workshops we're taking a topic and saying you can learn a bit more and try to support that."

Lobbying is also a key part of the committee's work. Tetreault himself has trawled around for funding to help establish a recovery centre in the Pemberton Valley where drug and alcohol addicts can rest on the way to getting treatment for their illnesses. He's gone to the Vancouver Foundation and Vancouver Coastal Health in search of funds, but thus far he's come up short.


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