Winds of Change offers healing vision for Pemberton and Mount Currie 

Thirteen recommendations address community substance abuse issues in report based on harm reduction model

The winds of change are blowing in the Pemberton Valley. That’s the message of the Pemberton/Mount Currie Drug and Alcohol Task Force final report, Winds of Change: A Healing Vision. After extensive community consultation and research the report is complete and its 13 recommendations are ready to be implemented.

At the report release ceremony Nov. 19, co-chairs Pemberton Mayor Elinor Warner and Mount Currie Band Councillor Joanne John offered statements of hope that the 14-page document would be used as a blueprint to address the two communities’ substance abuse issues.

"This (report) is the result of a year-and-a-half of research. We are hoping that our governments and local community groups will adopt these principles and when they are making decisions that affect us that they utilize them."

Warner admitted that the report took longer to prepare than anticipated, citing the mutual learning that had to take place.

"We had to learn to trust each other. As communities our people were going to have to come together to tackle this problem," said the mayor. "I think this report is better because we took the time to get to know each other and each other’s cultures."

The increased understanding and spirit of co-operation fostered by the process of developing the report was evident at the launch. Smudging, prayers in the traditional Lil’wat language and drumming were significant aspects of the proceedings.

John echoed Warner’s sentiments about the importance of the communities working together and developing common goals of reducing the harm substance inflicts on both communities.

"When our communities hurt, because we are so closely geographically located, it hurts everyone," said councilor John. "Our goal was to create something that each (group) could take back to their communities while still working on a common goal."

John sees the Winds of Change report as the first step to fully realizing a community where substance abuse is not an accepted norm.

"It’s the symptoms of addiction that create the disasters," said John.

Statistics support John’s assertion. During a period between Jan. 1 and May 16, 2004, 46.6 per cent of the 148 ambulance calls were alcohol related. From Jan. 1 to April 28, 2004 a staggering 96 per cent of the 158 people who spent time in the Pemberton RCMP detachment holding cells were booked for alcohol-related reasons.

While these numbers are troubling in and of themselves, the reason for the establishment of the joint task force illustrates the potential for tragedy born out of substance abuse. Founded in June 2003, the task force was a response to community concern about the May 2002 beating death of 15-year-old Ross Leo. The shocking murder that stunned the community of 2,000 was the result of the teenager’s altercation over alcohol with two grown men in a popular drinking spot known as "The Jungle".

Consisting of representatives from the Pemberton Village Council, Mount Currie Band Council, RCMP, Stl’atl’imx Tribal Police, as well community members and various health professionals, the task force fought against a lack of financial and human resources. Funding came in the form of a $20,000 National Crime Prevention Centre grant in early 2004, which allowed for the hiring of project co-ordinator Brandon Hestdalen, an experience First Nations drug and alcohol counsellor.

"It was a hard job for him. And it just wasn’t a job for him. He really believed he could make a difference with this report," said Warner, commending Hestdalen on his commitment to the project.

Both Warner and John stressed that The Winds of Change is a "living document and part of a four-step process. As outlined in the report, the task force has adopted a comprehensive approach to dealing with the associated problems of substance abuse by endeavouring to understand the community and its socio-economic factors, committing to strategy development, acting on strategies and implementing an evaluation process to establish the effectiveness of various strategies.

The strategies will be developed based on the criteria outlined in the Winds of Change, which call on both communities and associated governments to promote healthy lifestyle choices, increase awareness, improve services and promote community leadership and responsibility. This combination of education and development of resources mirrors Vancouver’s Four Pillar harm reduction model, which was developed by Dan Reist, a key consultant on the Winds of Change report.

Among the approximately 45 people attending the report release ceremony at Pemberton’s Pioneer Park gazebo was Marie Leo, grandmother of teenage murder victim Ross Leo.

"It’s hard for a grandmother to lose a grandson this way," said the Lil’wat Nation elder. "We have to continue to talk to (youth) and show them the right way."

It’s hoped that some of the suggestions outlined in the report, such as establishing alcohol-free community events, creating more youth sports opportunities and increasing available services, will help support the type of discussion Leo sees as essential.

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