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Skwlāx band in Shuswap takes first step home in wildfire recovery

‘This is the start of a great rebuild for our entire band, both physically and mentally’

The Skwlāx te Secwepemcúl̓ecw Welcome Home ceremony not only celebrated the new housing being built, but also bringing life back to the community as band members came together.

On Wednesday, April 24, just eight months after the Bush Creek East wildfire destroyed their homes, the band revealed the new Dancing Fawn II subdivision, the first of four that will be built with Rapid Housing to bring people home.

“This is a very special day for our band members… this is the start of a great rebuild for our entire band, both physically and mentally,” said Kukpi7 (Chief) James Tomma. “I”m very proud of our community, they’re learning to be a community again. We forgot about that, how to be a community, one people.”

Federal Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hadju attended the celebration, recognizing the significant work the band has done in a short time.

“Last year was the most devastating wildfire season on record, and the members of Skwlāx te Secwepemcúl̓ecw experienced it firsthand. And people pulled together, and to me that’s the spirit of this country, these nations that we live in,” she said. “Today, thanks to the incredible work by their leaders, and because of their strength and determination, they will soon be able to return to the community.”

Determined to get people home as soon as possible, the band enlisted three construction companies – Paradigm, Allteck and Freeport – to help meet its ambitious timeline of the project, which the band said is in the neighbourhood of $30 million. Overseeing the work is Skwlāx Resource Management, a band-owned company that maintains at least 50 per cent indigenous employment and 30 per cent local band members.

Though fire leveled 31 homes, the band celebrated that no members were lost but do still mourn the loss of beauty in the land, which Elder Wilfred Tomma said will never be fully restored in his lifetime. He also mentioned that, though they were material items, he feels the loss of some culturally significant objects.

“I’m very happy that we did not have any casualties… we never lost anything, all except the items,” Elder Wilfred Tomma said. “But today I can honestly say this is the first time in my life that I feel naked, because I lost all my sacred objects. My sacred pipe, my drum, my smudge, everything that goes along with what we have carried a long time.”

In addition to speeches, the Welcome Home event included a drum circle and prayer, tours of the finished houses and just being together as a community.

“What we’re really celebrating is the retention of who we are… helping one another through this time,” Tḱwemἱple7tn (Coun.) Wes Francois said. “The resilience of us Secwepemcúl̓ecw, we went through a lot of things in the last 10,000 years, and this is just another little bump in the road, and we will rebuild because we are strong.”

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About the Author: Heather Black

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