I have been asked by the Cortes Housing Society (CHS) to introduce myself in my new role as Project Manager. My intention is to share something of myself in a way that also shares this space with the Klahoose and the importance of Reconciliation.
The parts of my childhood that were happiest were my summers spent with my grandparents and extended family in the rural community of Westmeath Ontario. Westmeath is smaller than Manson’s Landing on Cortes, with a general store, gas pump and three churches. My grandfather had a large garden and a sawmill, he was a weaver and photographer who also built his own television and home. My grandmother baked bread and pies she made preserves and pickles, and hand washed the laundry and hung it on the line. Some of my favorite times where out on the Ottawa River fishing or sailing especially when it was just my grandfather and me. When I was a little older, I spent the second half of my summers in Algonquin Park at a canoe tripping camp. My soul was happiest in a canoe or on a portage and I couldn’t wait to get back there each year.
I was born in 1970 and grew up in London Ontario. My experience of London was one of privilege, my parents owned and operated a business that catered to the wealthy and elite. In school my memory of the teachings around Indigenous people were that they were people from back in time, historic and no longer in existence. The camp I attended, owned and operated by a privileged white family from Toronto, further perpetuated my misunderstanding of the history of this country. What I mistook at the time for honouring of Indigenous people was gross appropriation. The names and traditions of the camp including the founder wearing a traditional head dress and leading “Indian games” was not only inappropriate, but happening while indigenous people in this country were being prevented from practicing their own culture and speaking their own language.
It was only much later in my life as an adult that I started to learn about the genocide of Indigenous people in this country and that the leaders I was taught to trust, were the perpetrators of trying to wipeout the existence of Indigenous people.
Last year I had the privilege of living and working with the Klahoose at their resort in Desolation Sound as the Resort Manager. Supporting the team to learn the culture from Randy Louie and listening to stories from the staff as well as many of the community that visited, changed me in ways that I haven’t found words for and maybe never will. I see life through the lens of reconciliation and think about it in some way every day. I know that I am not alone and that we have a community filled with people that care about being in right relationship with the Klahoose. At the Cortes Housing Society (CHS) Open House we raised $15,000 for the individuals impacted by the fire at Klahoose.
Cortes Island is a special place for me and my family, it is a collection of everything from my childhood that felt like home. We also have 32 organizations and boards on this island with passionate, interesting people using their skills to make a positive impact. We don’t always agree or get along, sometimes our emotions and wounds get the best of us but when it matters most our community stands together. An example of this that comes to mind is March 17, 2020, my son Josh and I returned home from Campbell River where he was attending high school. At a time when the rest of North America was hoarding food and toilet paper, I walked into our Cortes Natural Food Co-Op and the shelves had plenty of everything including toilet paper. I remember thinking, this abundance speaks to what is good here, people know how to come together when it counts.
These days, we are coming together on the land at Rainbow Ridge, working on grants and infrastructure projects while we wait on the necessary partnership with BC Housing in order to move forward with construction. As I write this, we are finishing the building of the new trail system around the housing development so that the community can continue to walk through the land when the construction starts. Local contractors, Matt Cuscianna and Laurier Mathieu, from Klahoose are leading the work on the trails. We will share more about this project in April.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be involved with the Cortes Housing Society, to share my skills and experience in leadership and project management and to engage the community at every opportunity as we create something special together.
Emote | Thank You
Suzanne Fletcher | Project Manager, Cortes Housing Society