[interview with Suzanne Fletcher]
Suzanne Fletcher has lived on Cortes eight years, coming to the island initially to take up a management position at Hollyhock. She has since served on the Co-op Board, “done a lot of gardening,” and most recently spent a summer as Resort Manager for Klahoose Wilderness Resort before accepting the Project Manager position for Rainbow Ridge, with the Cortes Housing Society.
On April 8th, I interviewed Suzanne at her home on Siskin Lane; she told me a little bit about the very successful inaugural season at the Wilderness Resort, and also provided an update on progress at Rainbow Ridge.
I asked Suzanne what kinds of activities the Wilderness Resort offers to its guests.
People come from all over the world — there were a lot of Canadians though as well — and they come for three or four days’ stay. It’s really special. Last year we took people out in boat rides, especially in the early season before the grizzly bears were out. Just go out on the water, look for bears, look for wildlife, look for whales.
We also did excursions to Refuge Cove, because it’s a sweet little spot in the general store there.
Paddle boards, kayaks… and just beautiful nature and a hike right on the property; and sometimes taking the guests out fishing and giving them an experience that maybe they’ve never had before, they haven’t had since they were a child. And when people came, they were welcomed with drumming and singing.
Suzanne explained that the Resort does more than cater to upmarket tourists. It also provides employment for First Nations people, and a venue for education and cultural revival.
The majority of the team was First Nations from Klahoose, but also Sister Nations. It was an opportunity for the team to learn the culture, some of them for the first time in their lives, from Randy Louie from Klahoose. He shared stories, and taught carving and cedar weaving. He welcomed the guests with drumming and singing, and encouraged and taught the rest of the team how to drum and sing. I really witnessed firsthand some powerful healing amongst the team, with people who were getting to tell their stories to the guests. And it really was an authentic experience.
It was a real privilege. It changed me in ways I don’t have words for; but I, definitely, I think about reconciliation. I think about First Nations every day.
Last summer was the inaugural season for the Resort. I asked Suzanne how it went.
Very well, I’d say. They have been collecting awards for last season’s endeavours and won Best Indigenous Tourism Operation in BC — and I also just saw a post this week where they were named one of the top 15 new resorts in the world!
Since returning from that summer as the resort manager, Suzanne has accepted the position of Project Manager for Rainbow Ridge (Cortes Housing Society). I asked her what was happening on the land.
I’m working with the Cortes Housing Society and Sandra Wood on anything that we can make happen while we wait for the necessary partnership with BC Housing to start construction. It’s currently a half-time role for me because we don’t have the government partnership to go ahead and build.
The first project that we just completed — or are in the process of completing — is the new trail system on Rainbow Ridge. We created new trail systems so that when the construction does start, the community will still be able to walk through the land of Rainbow Ridge. We just changed the trail off of Cemetery Road, so it lines up with the Siskin trails and it’s up on higher ground, so it won’t flood in the winter. There’s a new little loop that that connects the property behind the hall and the skate park, and that will take the community around the building and away from the main road.
Our next step is, we are reaching out to the local mills and trying to get wood chips — cedar and fir wood chips — so we can make those trails a little more comfortable. We’re also organising a Community Firewood Day. We have a number of danger trees that we took down along the main road… approximately, maybe 40 small truckloads of firewood or soon-to-be firewood. And we have a number of volunteers lined up.
And there are more things for me to work on. There’s the garden project, the garden that will go with the housing development, so there’ll be gardens for the people who live there.
And we’re hoping to connect and get some Klahoose name options to consider for the road that will come into Rainbow Ridge. That main road parallel to the Fire Hall will eventually be maintained by the Ministry of Transportation.
In the course of the interview, we discuss the housing situation on Cortes, the slow pace of negotiations with the Provincial Government, and Suzanne’s personal commitment to integrating meaningful reconciliation into every aspect of island development.
If we’re going to create something new — or if we’re going to remodel something — or show up to an organization on the island — and look at it with fresh eyes, through the eyes of reconciliation, what does that mean?
It’s not just doing a token land acknowledgement. It’s … how does this whole building or organization function, and does it include indigenous people?
The full interview airs Tuesday April 11 at 8 AM and is available as a podcast on this page.
[Feature image by De Clarke via Midjourney; photographs by Suzanne Fletcher]