George Little Park’s first red cedar tree was planted over the weekend to recognize and help facilitate Indigenous generational healing in Terrace.
Around 35 people gathered with drums, rattles and blankets to celebrate and bless the new tree on April 20.
“The cedar tree is a holistic [Tsimshian] symbol and it’s accessible to virtually any person — and it’s living, so it’s always going to be around,” says organizer Brittany McDougall.
This tree-planting is one of the first initiatives hosted by the Rural Youth Reconciliation Initiative, a three-member group operating in Northern B.C. underneath the Canadian Roots Exchange umbrella to put youth at the forefront of reconciliation work in communities across Canada.
“The youth are our future,” says McDougall, who also worked as a youth coordinator for Kitsumkalum.
Moderated by Kitsumkalum’s Arlene Roberts, a few Tsimshian elders and residential school survivors spoke on the initiative before all participants linked hands in a circle around the new 12-foot tree. Litamlaxdau Gibau (Sharon Bryant) who is a matriarch of this Wolf territory of Kitsumkalum, opened up the gathering with a prayer and a blessing. Smithers’ band The Infirmary provided live music with snacks, drinks and conversation afterwards.
“We wanted it to be a more uplifting, positive and fun event,” McDougall says.
Community fundraising and donations were key to making the event a reality. A few weeks ago, McDougall approached city council to cover the $1,932 cost of the project during the meeting on April 8. With $3,192 left in council’s unbudgeted for the rest of the year, the city agreed to waive $472 to cover the cost of renting the park.
With the celebration date fast approaching, the group created an online fundraiser and managed to raise $934 to complete the project.
As a non-Indigenous person, McDougall says she hopes the tree will inspire settlers to work with Indigenous communities to lift each other up as allies against racism, discrimination and the continuing impacts of colonialism.
“I see it as a way to build understanding. My mom didn’t know residential schools were in place with the intention of erasing Indigenous people and their culture, and there still are colonial policies in place that still have that intention,” she says. “It breaks down the machine when we start to understand it.”
Other community engagement sessions are being hosted later this year, with a debriefing meeting from the tree planting ceremony set for April 27 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Kermode Friendship Society building.