Returning home to the Lower Lakes

“Knock on wood!” Jeanne Leeson reaches for a woven wooden headband hung around the rear view mirror in her four-wheel drive truck. The headband is her good luck charm. She has just deftly manoeuvred around another truck and some fallen 2x4s at kilometre 7 on the lake side of the inSHUCKch Forestry Service Road. Jeanne leaps out of her truck to help the driver load up the last plank and jumps back into the truck. She radios in “Loaded, 7, lake.” All vehicles on this road require a two-way radio. There are many single lane sections on the rough logging road with no shoulders. The camber of the road tilts towards the powerful Lillooet River below. “Empty” or “loaded” denotes which direction your vehicle is travelling. Logging trucks driving south on the road are “empty” and drive back north “loaded”with timber.

Jeanne is a ball of energy and a tour de force. She is the early childhood outreach coordinator for the Southern Stl’atl’imx Health Society, funded in part by United Way of the Lower Mainland and Success By 6 BC. Jeanne has been working in the Sea to Sky corridor for the past six years. Through her tenacity, hard work, relationships and partnerships, she has just seen a dream come true: the opening of the Early Childhood Development Hub in the Xa’xtsa Douglas First Nation community of Tipella, BC. What this early childhood centre means is that children won’t have to drive for hours back and forth along the logging road to get to school. They can attend kindergarten in Tipella. The childhood centre will also act as a community centre with drop-in programs and a community kitchen.

Celebration to open the early childhood hub in Tipella, B.C. Photo credit: Chad Galloway, 2016.

Celebration to open the early childhood hub in Tipella, B.C. Photo credit: Chad Galloway, 2016.

The First Nations community is located about two hours drive south of Pemberton, the closest community with full services. United Way is also funding a food program in TIpella and the other communities in the Lower Lakes, Douglas, Samaquam and Skatin. Matthew Hall, Community Health Nurse, Southern Stl’atl’imx Health Society, is working with the communities to build up the program.

“We work in a remarkably remote community that is remarkably close to one of the most well-known places in the province. It’s actually 30 kilometres as the crow flies from Whistler,” says Matthew. “These people live in a place that you can’t buy a slice of bread, you can’t buy an apple, you can’t buy a potato, you really can’t buy anything to sustain yourself,” says Matthew.

The project that he’s managing will create an in-community healthy food distribution network. Families are returning home to reclaim their heritage and embrace the future. With the early childhood centre and the food distribution network, United Way is helping build a strong community for all.

“Progressiveness. That’s the word I’m looking for. If we can do it – a small little village – others can do this,” says Xa’xtsa – Douglas First Nation Councillor Oliver Peters.

Learn more about the work we do across the Lower Mainland to help kids, families and seniors.