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Indigenous elder presented highest award in Shuswap Rotary Club

Peace N' Pizza took place on June 21
Self-described Neskonlith "elder in training" Louis Thomas tells of his life as an Indigenous person at the first Peace N Pizza event held on June 21 at First United Church.

On the surface, Salmon Arm is a beautiful and peaceful place to call home.

But there are those who fear for their lives because of their differences.

After hearing several alarming stories from immigrant families who have been told to “go home” or members of the LBGT+ community who fear being beaten up or worse, local resident Mike Boudreau decided to seek solutions.

Boudreau is a member of the Shuswap Rotary Club, which became a Peace Builder Club in February and whose members brainstormed about ways in which everyone can build peace.

Alarmed by the stories he heard, including those he was told by people who attend First United Church Wednesday lunches, Boudreau reached out to area churches about creating some kind of barrier-breaking activity.

First United Church Minister Jenny Carter responded with enthusiasm and in conversation came up with Peace N Pizza, the first of the planned monthly events that took place on June 21. 

As they arrived, participants were given a small piece of paper with a number and statement. A larger piece of paper listed the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Rights. Participants sought out others with the same number, asked to relate the statements they had to the charter, discuss them. At the end of their conversations, each person listed three ways in which they were similar and three ways in which they were not.

The idea, said Boudreau, was for people to learn about each other and make valuable connections with another human being.

After discussion and a grounding meditation led by Boudreau, participants enjoyed a meal of pizza, salads and hummus, all prepared by Carter in the church kitchen.

Following the meal, guest speaker Louis Thomas shared his story. The self-described Indigenous elder in the making and sharer of stories, described his life growing up, escaping residential school by riding from Kamloops to Salmon Arm on the top of a boxcar in the middle of winter and the violence in his home that developed after his father returned from the Second World War.

In a matter-of-fact way, interlaced with humour, Thomas told of earlier years when he was called a “dirty Indian,” told to go home and not allowed to go into several businesses, including the movie theatre. He spoke of how his people were self-sufficient and respectful of the land that so richly supported them, willing to share with colonizers when they arrived and lost their land and way of life.

Thomas has long continued with the work his mother, late respected elder Mary, accomplished in building bridges between cultures. He has come to terms with his past and insists the way to peace is in talking to each other.

Following his talk, Boudreau presented Thomas with a Paul Harris Award. The highest award in Rotary, it is given to a Rotarian or a member of the community that has made an outstanding contribution to the community. 

“People are afraid of each other,” says Boudreau, noting that conflict is a reality and the importance lies in choosing peaceful resolution rather than violence. “The purpose of Peace N Pizza is to teach people to open their minds and understand each other.”

Peace N Pizza events will take place at First United on July 19, Aug. 16 and Sept. 20 and as Thomas says Secwpemc cultural entertainment will but the Pow in Wow (Wednesday on the Wharf) on Aug. 28 as one of Salmon Arm’s most popular musical events ends with a mini pow wow. Other Peace events are also planned.