Dreams sown by the late Neskonlith elder Mary Thomas are being nurtured by family and friends and a REDI BC grant received through Community Futures of the Shuswap.
“We are planting the seeds of a new program, an extension of the Mary Thomas Heritage Sanctuary,” says proud daughter Bonnie Thomas, noting a number of projects are growing.
One long-cherished dream, a healing camp, will roll out this month on Mt. Ida, a place local First Nations consider sacred.
As firmly as she believed in the importance of bridging the cultural gap between natives and non-natives, Mary stressed the importance of teaching native youths the ways of their ancestors. More than keeping them out of trouble, Mary wanted to give them a sense of pride in their rich culture and teach them some of the valuable traditional skills.
Canadian Heritage recently approved $15,000 in funding for two healing camps that will be held in partnership with the Adams Lake Indian Band and the Switzmalph Society.
Led by Mary’s son Louis, the Mt. Ida camp will include total immersion in the Secwepemc (Shuswap) language for some 10 to 15 participants under the age of 18.
Language instruction will be provided by teachers from the Adams Lake band’s Chief Atahm School in Chase, and Neskonlith elders will pass on native traditions and lore, including plant identification and crafts.
The camp is also designed to create relationships and respect between youth and band elders.
A second camp, whose timing and content have yet to be decided, will be held in Chase.
Physical growth is another aspect of Mary’s dream as indigenous trees were planted in one-gallon pots Saturday, trees that one day may be used to restore the Salmon River Delta.
Thanks to a generous donation by an Ministry of Forests nursery, volunteers potted some 150 spruce, cottonwood, fir, willow, cedar, larch and mountain ash seedlings Saturday. Val Jensen, the one to whom Mary passed along much of her knowledge of traditional plants, is excited by the prospect of getting a new greenhouse on the property Mary donated.
“I’m so happy to be able to share Mary’s legacy with people, as is her family,” says an enthusiastic Jensen. “Mary spent a lot of time teaching… She shared with us, each something a little different, we’d didn’t know that until she was gone. Now we work together, we’re just pieces of a puzzle.”
Bonnie describes the donation of trees as one of the first visual evidences of the support being given to her mother’s dream of a cultural heritage site.
“The project is four-fold,” she says. “This addresses the greenhouse portion, then there is the eco-tourism, cultural interpretive trail and the cultural knowledge teaching with workshops.”
Bonnie is also working with numerous federal and provincial agencies on other business and delta restoration projects.
Another idea in the works is updating data bases by adding cultural knowledge to scientific information for cultural education purposes.
“For example, providing the cultural use of plants that might traditionally be food, medicine or ecologically important,” Bonnie says. “The other exciting thing I totally love, we have funding now through Ready BC funds to upgrade our website.”
High water disrupted tours along the Salmon River but they’ll be offered again. And long-term plans include camping sites with showers, washrooms and accommodation in traditional kekulis.
Plans are underway for a traditional powwow on Saturday, Sept. 24 followed the next day by a BC Rivers Day celebration.
“What she used to do as one person, it takes 10 to 12 of us to do now,” says Bonnie, laughingly agreeing her mother would be thrilled to see the work that’s being done.
For more information about the sanctuary, call 250-803-0395 and leave a message or call Bonnie Thomas directly at 250-253-4007.