It is no easy task restoring even a small piece of land back to its natural state.
That was evident at the En’owkin Centre’s student luncheon this week, which members of the Telus Thompson Okanagan Community Board attended to deliver a $20,000 grant supporting the centre’s multiyear project to engage local youth in efforts to restore rare and endangered habitats that support the recovery of species-at-risk and replenishment of Indigenous foods.
Micheal Bezener, ECOmmunity director with En’owkin, said the money will help with the plan to restore habitat at the ECOmmunity Place Locatee Lands on the Penticton Indian Reserve. The project aims to engage at least 1,500 community members to assist with propagation and planting of at least 20,000 Indigenous plants over three years.
Bezener hopes the youth that are going to work with the project will also be mentors to the students, kindergarten to Grade 12, that come to the site every year to learn about Syilx culture, language, community and the Okanagan environment.
“It is really important at this time that all the kids throughout the territory come to recognize the importance of this place, the plants and animals, cultural connections to place,” said Bezener.
Richard Armstrong, Traditional Ecological Knowledge Keeper from En’owkin Centre, said the youth need to understand that without the land, we wouldn’t have anything.
“There is nothing that you can think of that didn’t come from the land, including concrete and metal,” said Armstrong. “We can put more youth on the land to really appreciate the connection we have to the land.”
A special focus of the project is to provide employment, volunteer and educational opportunities for Syilx youth and youth-at-risk, ages 6-18, to inspire youth to bring healing to the tmxʷulaʔxʷ( the land) and the tmixw (all living beings, including human beings). Project participants will receive basic training in both western scientific and Syilx Traditional Ecological Knowledge protocols and practices and will utilize both traditional and contemporary technologies to accomplish the project’s habitat restoration and enhancement objectives.
Armstrong said there is a special kind of joy watching kids experience the natural environment, and noted they’ve already had success in beginning to restore the monarch butterfly.
“We watched the monarch butterfly come back from nothing. We only had one monarch butterfly. We planted special plants they could lay eggs on, now we have monarch butterflies coming back,” said Armstrong, explaining the butterfly stretches back into Syilx legend and culture.
“Our people talk about a time in our territory when the monarch butterfly was plentiful,” he said, adding that when working with youth, he likes to use modern technology to help bring the legends to life for the students.
He asks students to use the internet to call up an image of the monarch butterfly and look closely at the markings on the edges of the wings.
“”On the top part, if you look closely, you will see man’s footprints on the little white strip. On the bottom edge of the wings, you will see the tracks of the four-legged animals, our four-legged parents,” said Armstrong, adding that $20,000 is going to go a long way to help continue the work of connecting kids to language and culture.
The project will also help advance the En’owkin Centre’s mandate to recover, revitalize and perpetuate Syilx (Okanagan) culture, language, community and environment. Community and youth involvement in the ongoing caretaking of the land and all living beings is a vital part of ensuring the future health and well-being of all Okanagan residents and the region’s unique biodiversity.
To-date, additional funding contributions for this project have been provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Habitat Stewardship Program, Heritage Canada, and the Regional District Okanagan-Similkameen. Additional cash and in-kind donations to this project are most welcome.