Pubdate: Thu, 21 Sep 2006
Source: Pique Newsmagazine (CN BC)
Copyright: 2006 Pique Publishing Inc.
Author: Cindy Filipenko


It's a beautiful, sunny, Pemberton summer morning. Walking out of the 
post office, I run into an acquaintance I haven't seen in months. 
Standing at the corner next to the Esso station, we catch up in the 
shorthand common to such relationships. Within a few minutes, we've 
covered the essential territory: work, kids, partners, summer plans 
and the quest for more downtime.

"You look great!" I say with all sincerity, because she does. There's 
an energy and a freshness to her that I have never noticed before.

"I've been on the sobriety train since January," she says, 
matter-of-factly. "And I've lost 20 pounds."

Two women, who marginally know each other, candidly discussing an 
issue long kept in the dark, literally in the light of day. Maybe the 
winds of change really are blowing.

The effects of substance abuse extend far beyond the user. Families, 
sometimes generations of families, can be affected by having to cope 
with an alcoholic or drug addict. In the '80s, this was well 
documented through the literature of the ACOA (Adult Children of 
Alcoholics) movement. People raised by them share a distinct set of 
traits, from having to "guess" at what normal behaviour is to being 
extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that loyalty is 
underserved. These people have an increased likelihood of either 
becoming substance abusers or partnering with them -- in some cases, 
they do both.

Failing that, these people may adopt other compulsive behaviours, 
such as food or work addiction. More importantly, adult children of 
addicts tend towards insecure relationships because they parallel 
their childhood relationship with their alcoholic or dysfunctional 
parents. Thus, the chaos addicts create impacts another generation.

While an addict's family may most keenly feel the effect of the 
individual addict, communities also feel the effects. These run the 
gamut, from teachers having to deal with young children whose 
academic/social performance in school may be impaired by living in an 
unpredictable, unstable environment to tragedies of far greater 
magnitude. A horrible, heartbreaking event brought the issue of 
substance abuse in the Pemberton Valley to the forefront of community 
concern in May 2002.

Ross Leo was just 15 years old when he died. The Mt. Currie youth was 
brutally beaten to death by two adult men in an altercation over 
alcohol. The teenager had come across two men "sleeping it off" in a 
wooded area of BC Rail lands near the local elementary school. 
Nicknamed "The Jungle", the densely treed area was a well-known 
drinking spot among alcoholics who went there to consume the alcohol 
they bought a few blocks away at the government liquor store.

The men awoke when Leo was trying to steal their alcohol. A fight 
ensued that left the boy dead. Both Pemberton and Mt. Currie 
residents were stunned by the shocking murder.

Making matters even sadder was the fact Leo and his two assailants 
were from the 1,800-person First Nations community. While the Leo 
family had lost a brother, nephew, son and grandson, all three 
families had been severely damaged -- and being a small town everyone 
knew someone involved in the tragedy.

That is one of the downsides of living in a small town; it is often 
impossible to escape the pain. On the upside, it is often easier to 
mobilize people in a small town. And that's what the communities of 
Mt. Currie and Pemberton did in the wake of the tragedy, bringing the 
issue of substance abuse to public discussion.

Understanding a problem and coming to possible solutions is dependent 
on open discourse. Pemberton's Healthy Communities committee held a 
number of public forums to address and assess community concerns that 
Leo's death brought to the forefront. From those meetings the joint 
Pemberton-Mt. Currie Drug and Alcohol Task Force was created. The 
12-member task force consisted of the elected representatives from 
the Village of Pemberton and Mt, Currie Band Council and their 
respective administrators, the Mt. Currie and Pemberton health 
centres, Pemberton RCMP and Stl'Atl'Imx Tribal Police. The task force 
met twice monthly to explore the issues, solutions and funding 
possibilities. Given the fact that two communities, one predominantly 
white and one First Nation, were working together to examine the 
problems related to substance abuse, federal money came quickly. The 
group received a $20,000 grant from the National Crime Prevention Centre.

The task force hired Brandon Hestdalen, who had worked as a 
counsellor with the Xit'oclaw Community School and Sea to Sky 
Community Services, to gather data and develop a strategy for dealing 
with substance abuse issues in both communities. The document he 
produced, the result of nearly a year-and-a-half of research, was 
published in November 2004 as The Winds of Change: A Healing Vision. 
The 14-strategy report featured 13 recommendations designed to 
improve the health of both communities.

Former Pemberton mayor Elinor Warner was one of the co-chairs of the 
task force. At the report's launch, Warner admitted that the report 
had taken 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 then 
mayor, Warner. "I think this report is better because we took the 
time to get to know each other and each other's culture."

Nearly two years later, Warner and her co-chair Joanne John, a 
councillor with the Mt. Currie Band, are still addressing the issue 
of cultural differences in reference to developing drug and alcohol strategies.

"We're speaking in Lillooet on Oct. 10 with the First Nations and 
Area D, to let them know about our experience. What we did, what we 
could have done better," says Warner.

Warner, who has been an advocate for youth, sees the establishment of 
a joint Mt. Currie-Pemberton Youth Council as being one of the most 
positive changes the Winds of Change have brought about.

"The Youth Council will be meeting with Mt. Currie and Pemberton 
councils two or three times. I think that's really positive because 
you've got to talk to youth and youth have to be able to talk to 
people in power," says Warner. "They can probably tell more than 
anyone what's happening out in the streets."

As for some of the other initiatives undertaken by the Winds of 
Change project, Warner isn't sure that they meet the task force's 
original mandate.

"Joanne (John) and I spoke at a seniors' luncheon. Did that address 
drug and alcohol abuse? I don't think so," says Warner.

However, she concedes that the event definitely got people together 
and talking, some of the important bridge building that both 
communities had to initially do in the aftermath of Leo's death.

It Starts With Understanding

As outlined in the Winds of Change report, the task force 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 
value of various strategies.

Theses strategies were to be developed based on the criteria outlined 
in the report, which calls on both communities and associated 
governments to promote healthy lifestyle choices, increase awareness, 
improve services and promote community leadership and responsibility.

Warner's co-chair, Joanne John, believes the report is meeting its 
mandate and has now taken on a life of its own. The potential effects 
of the Winds of Change are something John sees in both her life and 
her work. A Mt. Currie Band council member at the time the report was 
undertaken, John now is the Director of Community Advancement at the 
Ts'Zil Learning Centre.

John has warm memories of putting the report together.

"I enjoyed being able to contribute to make a difference, to let 
people know there was someone who cared enough to takes risks. 
Someone who cared enough to say, 'Let's get real.'

"We got to work with Pemberton, putting our historical differences 
aside to work on something we had in common. We removed the judgment 
- --ignorant preconceptions -- and worked together.

"I believe the Winds of Change is evolving from the work of people 
who want to be champions in the community. It's taken on a life of 
its own," says John.

The ripple effect of the report can be felt in John's current workplace.

"All I can say is in the department we've incorporated personal 
growth and it's taking everyone to a (new) level. Leading by example 
is the only thing that will work. There are 18 frontline workers in 
my department and we can show people healthier alternatives."

Some of those healthier alternatives will start with drug and alcohol 
education in the elementary grades and early career planning in hopes 
of making Social Assistance the last resort instead of the first choice.

John, who has been sober for five years, lives her beliefs. Today, 
both of her daughters are sober as well. Staying sober hasn't been easy.

"There's a lack of support mechanisms in our community. There are 
safe places like hand-drumming and community gatherings. But unless 
someone steps up to the plate to run an AA, Al-Anon, NA or CODA 
meeting, it doesn't happen," says John. "We don't have a safe place to go.

"It's time we came out of the closet and quit being in denial."

John believes one of the most effective ways to break down the closet 
door would have youth and elder outreach workers in both communities, 
to stay in touch with these two vital demographic groups.

Events bring people together

July's Elders Conference brought seniors from both communities 
together to talk about a time when the Pemberton Valley was really 
one community. The event received tremendous support from both the 
elder population and community at large. For example, Across the 
Creek Organics donated salad fixings that were prepared by a group of 
women in Mt. Currie. The Pemberton Library loaned out a number of 
archival photos that complemented pieces from the Lil'wat7ul Lil'wat 
Cultural Centre collection. At mixed tables elders reminisced about a 
time when the communities depended on each other for commerce, 
recreation and socializiation. The event showed organizers Carrie 
Terchinetz and Lucinda Phillips what was possible.

Terchinetz and Phillips are two of the six members of the current 
Winds of Change steering committee. They are also paid employees 
vested with the challenge of creating a number of community events to 
bring both Mt. Currie and Pemberton together. Both women have been 
active in their respective communities.

Phillips has been long involved in recreation and is a member of the 
Mt. Currie Band council. Terchinetz is a paramedic with B.C. 
Ambulance and for the past two years has organized the Lillooet Lake 
Christmas Toy Drive.

The two women were hired earlier this year when the Winds of Change 
received a $30,000 grant to begin implementing the report's 
recommendations. Both women have found the opportunity rewarding, 
professionally and personally.

"I've learned that I can take on things that I never thought I 
could," says Terchinetz.

Phillips echoes this sentiment. "We've met a lot of challenges."

The main challenge the two faced was how to take recommendations 
outlined in the report and make them into interesting events that 
would bring both communities together. So far, they have succeeded. 
Having targeted both the general community and the elders, the next 
event the two women are producing is an October film night for youth 
around the issue of substance abuse. The evening will also feature 
speakers and be open to youth throughout the valley.

"Drugs are being used in the bathrooms at the high school," says 
Terchinetz. "I have kids tell me this. It's a problem. I think our 
programming can have a positive impact on youth."

But there's something aside from the professional rewards the project 
has given the two women.

"We've had a great time working together, I've learned more (from) 
this project than I did as a council member and I've made a friend," 
Phillips says of Terchinetz.

Working side by side

The value of personal connections the people engaged in the Winds of 
Change have made cannot be underestimated. Village of Pemberton 
councillor Jennie Helmer goes to a lot of meetings, it's part of her 
job and her commitment to larger community politics. For Helmer, one 
of the best offshoots of the Winds of Change is the quarterly joint 
Village of Pemberton-Mt. Currie Band council meeting. She recently 
attended her first meeting.

"Hands down it was the best meeting I have ever attended. It was 
amazing. We all sat at one huge table. It was friendly. Casual. We 
had a loose agenda. We broke off into small groups to discuss issues 
and we came back and shared them. We had a lot of common issues.

"I walked away from there feeling a sense of accomplishment. We had 
targeted common issues and concerns and things we were proud of, we 
discussed how to maintain that or make it better."

Helmer believes that positive change has been ongoing for both 
communities since the Winds of Change was published nearly two years ago.

"I think quite a bit has happened and there's been a lot more 
discussion of what should happen at a council, staff and community 
level," says the first-term councillor. "I think we're becoming a 
stronger community. Together we have more resources and insights."

She believes that the rolling out of the project, which began with a 
community-wide softball game, has made sense.

"It's all about communication and collaboration and the logical place 
for that was recreation. Although it sort of seems very non-substance 
abuse oriented, it's a way to bring people together is a non-drinking 

"When you're playing sports together, fighting floods together, you 
start to care about each other. We can fight for each other's causes 
and they became our causes."

Helmer sees bringing people together as an important first step in 
reaching one of the long-term goals: a treatment centre.

"There's no centre now. For the most part, people are ending up in 
the city. If we can keep it at a local level I am confident we can 
better address their needs and keep them closer to their families and homes."

Helmer credits much of the success of the Winds of Change project 
with the ongoing work of both communities' administrators.

"Lori (Pilon) and Sheldon (Tetreault) are working hard to make the 
idea of a treatment centre more tangible. What do we need to make it 
happen? Hopefully, in the early new year the ideas will be more concrete."

Broadening membership

Lori Pilon, chief administrative officer for the Village of 
Pemberton, is adamant that whatever form any treatment service or 
centre takes will come from community input, not government.

"We have an upcoming meeting with Coastal Health, the RCMP, 
Pemberton, Mt. Currie -- all of the major stakeholders -- to explore 
existing services and see what we can do to enhance them," explains Pilon.

"What we think, or hope, will come of that is the recognition of the 
need for some treatment service/facility. That could be anything from 
Rediscovery to bricks and mortars."

Pilon explains that Rediscovery is a First Nations model that's been 
in use since the '70s and works for both youth and adults by offering 
cultural reconnection.

"For example, Rediscovery could be a cultural camp where youth go up 
in the mountains and elders teach hunting/fishing and cultural 
values. It could look like whatever our community wanted. The idea is 
to get people away from the urban world, away from TV and other 
media, take them up the mountain to experience nature and examine values.

"One part of Rediscovery is to stay up the mountain for a whole day 
with nothing but yourself -- to essentially rediscover yourself."

Pilon is quick to point out that this is just one possibility that 
may be entertained.

"Sheldon and I are working on a proposal for another grant. I don't 
want to get ahead of the process, but we're thinking that it will 
probably be more focused on a treatment centre. But we'll know more 
once we meet with the stakeholders on Sept. 26, if (a treatment 
service/facility) is not mentioned then it will be off the table."

Just as existing service providers will have their opportunity for 
input into the next step for the Winds of Change, so will the public.

"I want to be careful not to impose what we think is important. It's 
critical that the public have input. Our committee is relatively 
small, everyone is so busy, we want to make it more sustainable by 
broadening the membership on it."

While Pilon contemplates the possibilities of all the options, one 
thing remains clear, she is a strong and determined proponent of the 
Winds of Change.

"The document is hugely progressive and a model for the whole province."

More support needed

Sheldon Tetreault began his involvement with the Winds of Change 
while serving as senior administrator for the Mt. Currie Band. He 
recently moved to a provincial leadership position with the newly 
formed Centre for First Nations Governance but is continuing his work 
with the project. While he believes there is room for improvement, he 
is impressed with the level of success the Winds of Change has experienced.

"The fact that the report got done is a success, because it was the 
first time the two communities had ever worked together on such a 
complex issue.

"We've had two crystal meth forums, a community-to-community forum on 
recreation, we've had two fun days, an elders forum, we've 
financially supported cultural awareness programs in the schools and 
we're collaborating on youth forums in the fall. I look back to the 
municipal elections and the Winds of Change report was held up and 
cited during the campaigning, I think that is an indication of the 
report's success," says Tetreault.

One area of improvement he would like to see is increased awareness 
of what is being accomplished through the program.

"A number of positive initiatives have happened over the past two 
years and it's not (generally) known that it's a Winds of Change 
event or that it came about as a result of the report. We also need 
to do a better job of giving opportunities for the community and 
families to get involved."

He believes the key to increased involvement is to show people that 
even a small amount of time they can contribute can help make events stronger.

The other change Tetreault would like to see has to do with 
stakeholder engagement. For the Winds of Change recommendations to be 
as broad reaching as possible, support needs to be forthcoming from 
other groups serving the community.

"So far this has been really driven by both councils, in Pemberton 
and Mt. Currie. But the problem is that we need more of the different 
stakeholders in both communities actively engaged to have a 
meaningful commitment to the committee's survival. We need the Tribal 
(Police) back engaged, the RCMP, the Pemberton and Mt. Currie health 
centres engaged. We need anyone touched by this issue engaged in 
helping find solutions, we need them recommitted and back at the 
table to execute the vision in the document."

While some stakeholders can just show up at the table, Tetreault 
would like to see others bring their cheque books.

"I feel really disappointed by the regional funders. We need them to 
step up and let us know how they can support this work. We have never 
been supported by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority or Sea to 
Sky Community Services. These are big regional organizations that 
provide service and have the funding and here is a community 
initiative that sprang up independent of them that has community support.

"Maybe we need to find a better way of pulling them in. But I find it 
upsetting that you have a community-supported initiative like this 
and they are nowhere to be seen in it."

Tetreault worries that as time passes the issues become less urgent 
and people become more complacent. He notes that the complexities of 
substance abuse make it a long-term ongoing project and keeping the 
issue current is difficult.

In the beginning, the project's emphasis was on building social, 
political relationships and he sees that as essential groundwork. 
However, the former Mt. Currie administrator thinks its time to move 
more towards making it easier for communities to make healthier 
choices. He points out that outside sobering up in a jail cell there 
is nothing for people who are in need of detox or treatment.

Asked if he thinks the communities are healthier because of The Winds 
of Change, Tetreault pauses before giving a thoughtful, cautious response.

"It's a long way from particular actions to outcomes like healthy 
communities. I think we're taking steps in the right direction and 
those are small, incremental steps. The reality is that there are 
things happening every week in our community' we're not that far away 
from another tragedy."
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MAP posted-by: Elaine