Sacred fires burned across B.C.’s Interior as the Secwépemc Nation shared prayers and offerings after a challenging year.
Outside the Esk’etemc (Alkali Lake) First Nation band office Monday, March 15, south of Williams Lake, a sacred fire burning there was one of many held across Secwépemc communities.
Kukpi7 (Chief) Fred Robbins said it was a unified approach for at least two different items they wanted to send a message about.
“The first one is the loss of all of the First Nations due to COVID-19 and those that are struggling in First Nation communities with COVID and opioids,” he said.
His community, where approximately 500 people reside, continues to await word when more vaccines will arrive after receiving around 180 doses earlier this year.
A lockdown was initiated at Esk'et after a COVID-19 cluster was identified, in which 37 cases would be confirmed.
“We had no losses thank God, but we did have a few members who were admitted into William Lake so that they could be close to the hospital,” Robbins said.
Some are still experiencing lung trouble and breathing problems despite no longer testing positive for the disease, he said.
“The second part to the sacred fire is for murdered and missing First Nations women,” Robbins said.
“We’d like to send a message to government to follow through with the recommendations that were provided at the Kelowna Accord.”
Many critics believe little progress has been made since the Kelowna Accord, which was to eliminate gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians in areas of education, skills development, housing, health care, access to clean water and employment, was announced in November 2005.
Xatśūll First Nation (Soda Creek Indian Band), north of Williams Lake, noted on a Facebook post that a sacred fire is a way for Indigenous people to connect to their ancestors and loved ones who have passed.
It also provides a renewed sense of purification and the strength to accept new change and move forward.
Items such as tobacco and prayer ties were put into the Xatśūll sacred fire at the Whispering Willows Campsite.
In Esk’et, Robbins and other Esk’etemc First Nation members also sang and drummed around the sacred fire.
“When it comes to First Nations culture and tradition, the sound of the drum and the chants that go with that drum sends a really positive message,” Robbins said, noting the continued need of showing compassion and kindness to one another and reaching out.
“It lifts the spirit of the community and the people that hear the songs.”
Rebecca Dyok, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Williams Lake Tribune