the Discourse, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Haíɫzaqv (Heiltsuk) people have thrived at Kunsoot since time immemorial. Kunsoot is an ancient village site, with reminders of the deep history of Haíɫzaqv people on this land. Kunsoot is also the site of a land-based wellness centre being built by, and for, Haíɫzaqv people.
Kunsoot Wellness Society
The team has worked hard to complete cabins for caretaker, families, singles, and youth. There are gathering spaces, a dining area, and cook house. Staff housing is still in progress, and a fire pit gathering space is receiving final touches.
“One of my favourite spaces in progress is the fire pit,” says Desiree Lawson. She is the Engagement Strategist for Kunsoot Wellness Society.
“It is dedicated to our matriarchs by shaping it in the form of a woman’s cedar hat. Our people understand that without our matriarchs, we wouldn’t be here, and we are honouring them and their strength and courage that has gotten our people through past pandemics, hardships, cultural genocide.”
Lawson has been leading the communications and community engagement throughout the project’s process.
The pandemic has impacted the construction of the wellness centre, explains Lawson. Instead of everyone working together, the crew was split into two separate teams.
They worked for four days on and then had three days off, Lawson says. Hand wash stations were set up, bleach wipes were available for tools and separate boats were required to transport the crews.
“Some staff with families really felt the loss in wages due to these changes,” says Lawson, “the split up of staff for safety measures also resulted in less work hours per week.”
When the summer brought B.C. to Stage 3 of re-opening, the crews went back to their regular schedule.
Lawson says that community need and planning is at the heart of Kunsoot.
“Once we begin spending more time there, our people will decide if they need more family cabins, more youth cabins, more outdoor spaces for activities.”
Though construction was not yet complete, the site has begun operations, with small land-based programs.
These programs run, based on direction from Heiltsuk EOC (Emergency Operations Centre), following COVID-19 best practices. A recent positive case in the community required all programs to be temporarily put on hold.
Despite their temporary closure, land-based programs are an essential part of the wellness work being done, explains Lawson.
“This is where our ancestors worked,” she says. “Reclaiming, we’re going back to our roots. We’re going back to where our ancestors were before us.”
The original proposal for the wellness centre makes clear that the “greatest asset” in this work is the territory.
“Our hereditary leaders have always instructed us to look to our lands and waters to find healing and wellness. In that sacred relationship, in its reciprocity, in the strength we get from taking care of a homeland that, in turn, takes care of us – we find the roots of our power as individuals and as a community,” the proposal states.
Kunsoot Wellness Centre is a tangible example of a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Call to Action on gaps in health outcomes for Indigenous Peoples. TRC recommendation 19 in particular mentions the need to “value traditional Aboriginal healing practices.”
The Kunsoot project website shares an invitation for community members to take the Kunsoot Pledge, which begins with the declaration “Wellness matters. It is the healing foundation to individual and collective balance.”
Many Indigenous wellness perspectives are not limited to the physical understanding. There is often a more holistic view of wellness, which means these physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health are balanced to create a sense of wellbeing. The First Nations Health Authority created a visual tool to express this view of wellness.
Top photo credit: Kunsoot Wellness Centre, Photo Credit: Jess Housty.