Some of the participants gather around a window to look at the storm surrounding the Vancouver Island Mountain Centre during their Indigenous Winter Wellness Retreat. Photo supplied.

Wilderness retreat turns wild for nine families on Mount Washington

Snow dump added twist in event designed to encourage families to reconnect with their culture

The intent for nine Indigenous families a few weeks ago was to escape to the wild side of Mount Washington – to do some winter activities, meal workshops, nature study and to learn about their culture while bonding with family and friends.

The 30 people as part of the Indigenous Winter Wellness Retreat got all of that – and more – after a snowstorm developed on Jan. 17 as the group settled in at the Vancouver Island Mountain Centre.

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The retreat, in its first year, was created by the Indigenous Parents Advocacy Club with the goal of encouraging families to get outside and embrace winter and reconnect with their culture.

One of the retreat’s organizers, Brenda Beatson said as the group headed up the mountain Jan. 17, the weather was rather uneventful.

“However, the weather changed quickly and just after the bus unloaded and the participants were getting settled in their rooms, the wind picked up and the snow started falling. As the hours drifted by, the snowstorm worsened. Soon we could no longer see the parking lot below nor our vehicles.”

Beatson noted as the storm started progressing, everyone started to get concerned.

“Some got scared, excited, mesmerized. Some adults in their 60s had never even seen a storm like this. There was a whole mix of emotions.”

As the storm increased in intensity, some uncertainty began to set in with the group, but Beatson explained an elder whom she invited along began to set up for a smudging ceremony.

“All of a sudden, a calm came over the building, and everyone became enthralled by his teaching. He got one of the young boys to do the smudging ceremony – that’s something that elders do.”

She said there was a soothing, mellow calm that came over the group – they knew by the smudging the group was protected.

“We just knew we were going to be okay and we felt that we were all together – we felt safe. There was storytelling for four hours, and it made the storm not seem so bad anymore.”

As part of the weekend, the group had planned for LUSH Valley Food Action Society to visit during the weekend to teach them about low-budget, healthy meals for families, but due to the weather, LUSH personnel were unable to reach the mountain.

Beatson said once again, the elders got together and examined the group’s food supply, and created a ‘winter storm soup’ from leftovers, some veggies and meat the group had with them in order to feed 30 people.

After the storm subsided, the group was able to experience some winter activities including tobogganing and snowshoeing.

“We didn’t let the storm stop us. By late afternoon the SARS Adventure Smart facilitator managed to make it up the mountain road and walk through three feet of snow uphill for the presentation of being adventure smart in nature,” Beatson added.

“Our group wants to thank Mother Earth for stranding us up on a mountain top, for isolating us within (her) grasp and teaching us that as a community we can provide, nurture and comfort one another when there is adversity.”

For more information, call 250-331-4040 or email Indigenous.Education@sd71.bc.ca.



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A participant and an Elder share a moment earlier this month during the Indigenous Winter Wellness Retreat. Photo supplied

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