In Trail, two organizations have come together to build a dedicated ceremonial space to promote inclusion and remove barriers for Indigenous-led ceremonial practices.
Located outside of Trail Family and Individual Resource Centre Society (FAIR) on Columbia Avenue, a 12-by-12-foot enclosed gazebo is bringing visibility to Indigenous culture in the community.
In October 2020, project partner Circle of Indigenous Nations Society (COINS) blessed the quiet unveiling, marking a memorable occasion for the community organizations and the families they serve.
“I wanted the space to be something permanent and reflect a welcoming spirit—not a space that was hidden away,” explains FAIR Executive Director Janet MacNeil. “We hope that moving ceremonies outside of the FAIR building will bring awareness and inclusiveness and help us celebrate Indigenous communities. When we improve services for one group, it benefits the whole.”
With offices in Castlegar and Grand Forks, the non-profit society COINS provides cultural support and counselling services to people in the West Kootenay Boundary. To reach remote and rural communities, the society also partners with community organizations like FAIR to deliver services out of regional venues.
The new gazebo is an inclusive place for people who identify as Indigenous, as well as being welcoming for those of other cultures to respectfully enjoy the space. It was designed and constructed by Ron Sorenson of Lone Rock Contracting with culture in mind, to create a sense of belonging, pride and comfort, according to Kris Salikin, COINS executive director.
“I think that’s a big barrier that Indigenous people sometimes face; they feel like they can’t go into a building that maybe doesn’t understand their culture,” explains Salikin. “Historically, Indigenous ceremonies and sweat lodges were outlawed. We weren’t allowed to gather; at one point, three people at a time was seen as a conspiracy, so celebrating our ceremonies and culture—and giving space to do that in a non-Indigenous organization—is a really big deal. It’s a step toward healing for the people in this area.”
Once COVID-19 limitations are eased and social distancing is a thing of the past, families of diverse backgrounds can enjoy the new space by participating in drumming, smudging and other ceremonial practices dedicated to healing and spiritual connection.
The project was guided by the identified need for an Indigenous-specific space for traditional ceremony, created in partnership with local service providers and supported with funds from Columbia Basin Trust. Building during a pandemic posed some challenges, from sourcing materials to on-site work restrictions, but the project was completed in the fall and features LED lighting fed by solar panels, illuminating a warm and welcoming open-air environment.
“To know that the Trail community has a permanent space for us is heartwarming; now we can offer even more programming, we can reach more families, and we can promote more healing,” adds Salikin. “It’s my hope that other communities we serve will also help us provide culturally safe spaces for families; I hope this creates a ripple effect across the region.”