Meagan James-Sam balances on a fulcrum while playing “caxswii,” a game for developing harpoon skills, Wednesday during a Gathering Our Voices session at Secluded Wellness Centre west of Port Alberni. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Indigenous youth connect with their culture at Gathering Our Voices workshops

Secluded Wellness Centre in Port Alberni hosted traditional wildcraft sessions


Special to the News

There is probably more than one way to skin a raccoon.

Indigenous youths visiting from around British Columbia had a lesson in the Tseshaht First Nation technique for skinning at a culturally focused outdoor skills workshop as part of Gathering Our Voices in Port Alberni on Wednesday, March 20. The lesson was one of more than 100 activities to expand the horizons of Indigenous youth in the province and bring them closer to their identity.

The workshop, comprised of half a dozen hands-on demonstrations of wild craft, was hosted by Secluded Wellness Centre, a fairly new cultural tourism facility off Hwy. 4 near Tseshaht Market.

Smoke and steam from a cooking fire pit swirled around the site Wednesday as knife edges were tested on cedar, alder, bone and flesh. Youths age 14-24, many in their mid-teens and from urban centres, got to experience more of the wild side.

A handful tested their harpooning skills in a game called caxwii, used to develop harpoon skills for whalers as they hunted by canoe at sea.

“I really liked this workshop because I got to see this end of the Island,” said Meagan James-Sam. “I got to experience what it’s like to throw a spear.”

“It’s pretty cool,” said Jaden Harry from Victoria, acknowledging that he’s more of a city kid. Whether watching a bear hide stretched for tanning, a raccoon skinned, or vegetables roasted in an open firepit — all of these were new experiences.

For Naomi Nicholson, the workshop was right up her alley, a chance to showcase the Indigenous tourism potential of Secluded Wellness. Nicholson, who hails from Ahousaht and holds a tourism management degree, launched the guest house and meeting room last summer with her husband Ed, who is Tseshaht.

“We started getting people from all over wanting an authentic Indigenous experience,” she explained. “It’s a balance between a for-profit venture and sharing culture.”

Opening the facility has given her the opportunity to explore Nuu-chah-nulth culture to a much greater degree, including learning the language. She recalled how seeing a demonstration of Indigenous culture at a Toronto conference kindled her interest.

“If it wasn’t for that conference so many years ago, I wouldn’t have learned to be proud of my culture,” she said.

About 900 youth attended the conference and activities around the city. Gathering Our Voices concluded on Friday with a three-hour closing ceremony, featuring performers and speakers as well as presentations of provincial Indigenous Youth awards.


Artist Lynn Cootes demonstrates modern carving skills to shape an ancient symbol, the eagle. Cootes addressed a Gathering Our Voices group on Wednesday, March 20. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Hiplite Williams, a Huu-ay-aht carver, gives his first workshop during a Gathering Our Voices session at Secluded Wellness Centre west of Port Alberni on March 20. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

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