We are honoured to share this inspiring heritage success story. It is one of many stories about the good work happening through FPCC-funded projects across B.C.
Three years ago, the Penelakut Tribe began building a 6 kilometre forest trail system, Spaal ‘i’ Skwitth’uts Shelh and Tu Shelh Hunum utl Shi’shum (The Raven and Stellar Jay Trail, and The Trail to Shi’shum in Hul’q’umi’num’), in their community on Penelakut Island. This heritage success story brought Elders and youth together to revisit an old trail that had been used by ancestors. The project was led by a small team of Elders, youth from the Penelakut Island Elementary School and Learning Centre, trail-building expert Riley McIntosh, and a trail building crew from the community (Donald Mitchell Sr, Jamie Jim, Logan Brown, Nigel Edwards, Cameron Crocker and Sebastian Jack). The goal was to learn land-based skills, create connections between traditional skills and modern curriculum, and work together to build trails that would be usable for the whole community.
“It is a creative land-based educational approach,” explains Mar Kalbfleisch, the special education program teacher for the Penelakut Tribe. “Elders have been involved since the beginning. And in building these trails, it’s an incredible way for the kids to create connection to the land and to the members of their community. It’s experiential learning at its finest.”
In 2019, the Penelakut Island Elementary School and Learning Centre received the FPCC Heritage program grant A Sense of Place: Reconnecting the Land through Indigenous Cultural Heritage. The funding was used to care for the trail and deepen understanding of how Indigenous cultural heritage is connected to their land, and how Indigenous knowledge, traditions and languages can be used to support land management and sustainable development. The project was completed in March 2020, just as COVID restrictions were starting to take place.
A key learning from the project is the importance of knowledge sharing between generations. Much of the trail revisits an old route used by ancestors and opens previously difficult to access locations of importance. The Elders were involved to tell stories about these places and to encourage respect for the history, relevance and sacredness of the trails. With the guidance and direction of Elders, the youth opened each new trail with ceremony and a shelh stilum (trail song). “It is truly impactful to create opportunities for intergenerational learning and connection,” says Mar Kalbfleisch. “Elders working with children and youth was such a benefit to the community. The trail is truly a place for connection and creation of culture and understanding.”
The tu tumuxw tatulnuxw (land-based learning) of trail-building began to be integrated throughout the school’s curriculum, and soon many of the smun’eem (students) at the elementary school were working on the trail. Experiences such as deer-hide tanning and oyster bakes were brought back into the classroom for further learning and discussion. “This is so unique, because we have the school there, the western school education, and we have the First Nations school here – the trees, our environment,” explains Penelakut Elder James Charlie. “To use your hands to have a hands-on experience is very unique. Bringing all these families out to the trail, these young children, it’s all positive. The trail is positive. The school is positive.”
Each day, the smun’eem of Penelakut experience the world around them and then in return create inspiring work from these meaningful moments. The work in this project created opportunities to bring the trail into the classroom through literacy and art activities. To represent this, multiple books have been created over the past three years about the trails on Penelakut: “We Work On The Trail,” “I Live On Penelakut,” “We Have a Trail,” “What do we see on the trail?,” “I See, Ni Tsun Le’lumut Tu” and “All People and Trees are Beautiful.” The group received an FPCC Heritage Micro-Grant to turn these works into printed and bound books. The books clearly show the strong sense of pride and value the smun’eem took in their involvement in the trail work and the impact of spending time on the land.
Moving Outdoors During the Pandemic
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, many in the community have turned to the land and outdoor activities as a safe way to feel kwthu uy’ shn̓itst (a sense of place) and a sense of connection to the land and each other. After three years of creation and use, the Penelakut trails have turned into a valuable space for the community during the pandemic.
“Because of COVID, we’re trying to learn outside as much as possible,” says Mar Kalbfleisch. “We’ve built an outdoor classroom on the trail so that the kids can go outside and continue their learning outside.”
Connection to culture and the land has positive mental health benefits, and for the students and the trail has become a place of escape and comfort. “The trail is a good place to get away from stress, get away from technology. I find this place as medicine,” explains smun’eem Arthur Smith. The positive impacts of the project on both youth, who now use the trail, and those who were involved in building the trail have been witnessed by others around them.
“They leave the house and they’re excited to be on the trail, all excited to be out of the house, they’re all excited to be out in the wilderness,” declares Penelakut Elder Karen Charlie. “They’re getting exercise, they’re getting fresh air. And it shows on their faces that they’re so happy.”
Although COVID-19 restrictions have presented challenges, outdoor places like the Penelakut trails provide the community a strong sense of connection with each other and the land. We hold our hands up to the Penelakut trail-builders for creating this forest trail that has improved community wellness and provided access to the land for their community.
We would also like to thank and acknowledge the production company Race Face that created a documentary on the trails called Hwuy’xwet Pune’luxutth and have allowed us to share the film in this story. Quotes from Elders and youth, and Hul’q’umi’num’ words and phrases found in this story were translated by Leona Sylvester from this documentary.
Images in this story were provided by Mar Kalbfleisch, Penelakut Island Elementary School and Learning Centre.
View our other program success stories here
About the FPCC Cultural Heritage Program
Current FPCC funding opportunities
Hul’q’umi’num’ on the First People’s Map
Hul’q’umi’num’ on FirstVoices.com
Share Your Story!
Do you have a Heritage program success story about how you have adapted the work you do in First Nations languages, cultural heritage and Indigenous arts in B.C.? We want to hear from you! Please send your Heritage program success story to firstname.lastname@example.org and check back as we post more stories of the good work being done across the province.
To receive FPCC news and funding updates, please sign up for our email list here.
Follow FPCC on social media for updates: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube