British Columbia

Heiltsuk homecoming allows children in care to connect to their roots

The Heiltsuk Nation in Bella Bella are welcoming more than two dozen children from the nation who are living in foster care around the province to a homecoming camp.

'It's very important for [the youth] to know that they are valued and they are loved,' camp organizer says

This week, the Heiltsuk Nation is welcoming Heiltsuk youth who are currently in foster care to their home territory to connect with their culture and community. (Heiltsuk Kaxla Society)

The Heiltsuk Nation of B.C.'s Central Coast will be welcoming a set of very special guests this week: 26 Heiltsuk children and youth, many of them in foster care, will be arriving from all over the province to their home territory.

It's part of a camp being organized by Kaxla Child & Family Services. Treena Wynes, executive director for the organization, says the community is extremely proud and excited to bring the children to Bella Bella, where the nation is based.

"We know that Indigenous children who are in care need better access to their culture and community — in fact it is their right, it is a human right for children," Wynes said.

"And we don't want the children coming home later on not knowing who they are or think that they have been forgotten, because that certainly is not the case."

The children and youth are aged between one year and 17 years old. Accompanied by caregivers and social workers, they will start their week at a welcome event at the community hall on Tuesday.

The whole community will be present as the children and youth are blanketed in a ceremony. 

The children were blanketed in a ceremony on Tuesday July 9. (Heiltsuk Kaxla Society)

"There'll be drummers and singers drumming and singing them into the hall ...There's going to be hereditary chiefs and elders [who] will be culture sharing but also explaining their family tree and their family ties," Wynes said.

"It's just something that the Heiltsuk people here in Bella Bella [have] had a vision about for a long time ... It's very important for [the youth] to know that they are valued and they are loved and an important part of the community."

After the ceremony, the kids will participate in a cultural camp where they'll be fishing and crabbing, but also taking part in Heiltsuk language lessons, storytelling, drum making, cedar weaving, canoe pulling, harvesting ancestral foods and medicines, and learning songs and dances.

'When we go to camp, you know they're going to be out in nature,' says Treena Wynes with the Kaxla Society about the homecoming camp. (Tavish Campbell/Heiltsuk Nation)

Many of the youth are coming from urban areas, so being in the remote community surrounded by mountains and ocean will also be, for many of them, their first time in their home territory.

Wynes said it was important for the social workers and caregivers to take part in the events.

"Social workers, you know, maybe get a bit nervous about … sending children to their territory or the community because they don't know … who's there and if it is safe," she said. 

"They can also see this community and what we're all about, the beauty and the love here — and I can tell already that they're going to be excited to come back."

Listen to an interview with Treena Wynes on CBC's Daybreak North:

With files from The Early Edition, Daybreak North