alert bay

What a week. Ten of us from Trinity Western University spent 7 days with the First Nations people in Alert Bay, mostly people from the Namgis tribe. Here is a glimpse into our week.

A beautiful morning on our early ferry ride to Vancouver Island! Sam was our trip photographer; he one of my really good friends at school, and so much fun to be with. I'm grateful for his depth, for his jokes, for his ability to attract and bring people together. We love you man!

This is Abbi, who was in my dorm last year! Her joy is so contagious and I'm so glad she was on this trip, even though she and a few others got really sick with a flu during the week! 

Me and Olivia, one of the most humble, servant-like people I've ever met! We explored a lake as a stop on our way to Alert Bay. 

Dakota and I enjoying the lake. Dakota is one of the best at connecting with people, especially the quiet ones. 

Out the ferry window on our way to Cormorant Island!

The team on our way to Alert Bay! From L-R - Olivia, Abbi, Ceilidh, Steff, Sam, Rhys, Amanda, Dakota, Doreen, and me! Amanda is one of our school's business professors, and God truly placed her on our team because He cares for us. She is in a period of mourning, having suddenly lost her husband, another of our professors, last fall. Despite this deep grief, she was constantly reaching out to others, serving in ways that the rest of us completely missed, and sharing her story with those around her. We were so blessed by her encouragement, wisdom, and crazy stories! 

Our first sighting of Cormorant Island! The island wasn't originally the home of most tribes now living there. Many people were forced to come here in order to attend the residential schools. From the 1800's until 1996, the First Nations people were forced to send their children to these government-sponsored religious schools where they were trained to become like  the Euro-Canadian white people. Now, those children are adults who are telling their stories of physical, mental, emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse, deprivation of contact with their families, and punishment for aspects of their culture such as speaking their own language. These schools are one of the main ways that settlers oppressed and destroyed much of the tribal culture. Canada has made an official apology and is working to give back to the people, but there is so much that cannot be replaced by words of apology. We visited this island in the hopes of being one more step in that process of giving value and respect back to the First Nations people, the ones who were here before all of us. 

View from my host home Sunday morning! I stayed with Rachel, a TWU alumnus who is now a nurse in Alert Bay. She is so incredibly servant-hearted - she hosted us, cared for our sick, and cared for a foster child, all while she maintained her normal work as well! She reminded me of Jesus. 

This view from our island to the Big Island (Vancouver Island) took my breath away. Also, bald eagles were everywhere! 

One of our hosts, Sarah, took us for a walk on the top of the island in an incredible swamp! You can walk around on the fallen logs and eat cranberries that have been frozen all winter. Rhys, nearest us, was my co-leader for the trip, and he did such a fabulous job. I know we all are so grateful for his intentionality, his incomparable desire to follow Jesus, his 100% faithfulness, and how he sets the tone of the team to be focused and joyful. 

Art everywhere! This dock is right outside the House of Prayer, our home base for the week. Just look at those mountains! 

It was just too beautiful not to take a group picture (missing Amanda!).

One of the highlights of our trip! We were invited to watch Pewi (dark-haired woman at left end) teach her 4th-7th grade Language and Culture classes. These kids have learned traditional songs in their language and drumming patterns on this long, hollowed log. 

While the girls drum, the boys dance, and then we switch! Rhys and Sam (nearest camera) did a great job, but those dances were way more exhausting that we were expecting! In the first dance we learned, the girls all held their hands facing forward. The teacher explained that as women, we have power, and so we wave our hands to clean the evil away. 

Alert Bay is home to the World's Tallest Totem Pole! It's about the same height as the Leaning Tower of Pisa! 

Gilakas'la means "Thank you" or "Welcome." Both seemed so appropriate this week. We were overwhelmed by the warm welcome given to us, and we simply cannot thank them enough! Not only did they open their homes and refrigerators to us, but they opened their hearts and shared their stories as well. 

We took a hike to see a lighthouse, and we felt like we were in a magical forest land. It felt like Endor to me! 

On Wednesday, we were given a feast! Tristin and her dad, Art, taught us how to cut, gut, and roast salmon over a fire on the beach. Here is Tristin and Olivia watching the salmon cook. 

Raw fish is just like sushi, right? Sam ate some before throwing it to the eagles. Steff, far left, was a total champion on this trip. She came down with the bad flu going around town, but was back in with our team as soon as possible. Through it all, she had a deep, authentic joy and compassion that exudes from her smile. I'm so grateful for being able to count on her and debrief with her. 

This is pretty great picture to write about how much fun it is to have Ceilidh (kay-lee) on a team. No one brought us more laughter than Ceilidh! But her humor and joy is matched by her depth and desire to make others welcome. Thanks Ceilidh!

Art and Dakota cooking salmon! Art would just yell "NORTH" to get her attention. It took a few tries, but eventually we all got the connection.  

I loved watching Art prepare the fish, hearing him tell us different facts about the different beach wood types, and tasting the smoked salmon. It made me realize just how valuable cultural knowledge can be. Something so simple to them - cutting and roasting a fish - is a wondrous skill to me. It is beautiful to see their tribal knowledge passed down from generation to generation. 

The feast! The main features were  the four different kinds of salmon, potato wedges that they call "canoes," roe on kelp, and "tlitna," which is incredibly valuable oil made from herring oil. They dip everything in it. On huge community festivals called potlatches, jars of this oil are the most precious, expensive gift a chief can present. There are little cups with a tiny amount on the far right; whatever wasn't used was collected to be used again. They laugh about the fact that most white people think the oil is gross. I was no exception. 

I just can't get enough of these views. 

Me, Olivia, and Kachina, one of the girls were spent a lot of time with on the island! She's in high school now, which is on a different island, so she has to take a school ferry instead of a school bus every day! 

Old fishing vessels. 

Walks on docks. 

Olivia and Kachina dancing on the docks. 

Me and "Klink," my favorite old guy of the trip. He speaks Kwakw'ala, the language of their people, and he patiently answered all my questions about grammar, pronunciation, and helpful phrases. No matter where you see him, he'll envelop you in a giant hug! 

One more view... 

Abbi, Olivia, Doreen, me, and Steff waiting for our ferry off the island. 

Me, Doreen, and Steff on the ferry back to Vancouver Island. Doreen is a nurse who is also taking some classes at TWU. She's from Korea originally, and she shared that she was able to understand some of the struggles that kids here go through regarding their culture. She was such a blessing to have on the team!

Halakas'la means "goodbye," but it literally means "my breath goes with you." Alert Bay, you have taken my breath away. I hope and pray to return to you again someday. Until then, you will be in my prayers, as I know I am in yours. Thank you, brothers and sisters in Christ, for letting me into your life for a week. I have been encouraged and grown into a more global Christian because of you. God is living and active, and we have all seen Him work! 

It has only be 24 hours since getting back from the trip, and I still have so much left to process and see God use in my life. But right now, I know a few ways this trip has transformed me.

- I am far more aware of the impact of residential schools on the native people, and I am utterly heartbroken by the devastation it has caused in their own identity and respect for their culture.

- I attended a community think tank on the topic of language revitalization, and I was so broken by the realization that these people are struggling against time to bring back their language, a language that we stamped out. Now they're left to fight mostly on their own. When the few fluent speakers were asked what they wanted to see happening with the language in 5 years, they laughed and said, "We'll be dead!" And sadly it's true - the language is flickering on the brink of extinction, and more than ever I am determined to be an advocate for the government of Canada to provide them with everything they might need.

- The people of Alert Bay were the most generous culture I've ever known. I want to be more like them, stopping for hours to simply be present with each other, laying down whatever amount of money or food or anything else. They love to bless each other, and it makes for a beautiful, inter-dependent community.

- The Christians I met in Alert Bay amazed by with their incredible forgiveness. Even though the only apologies for the residential schools in the past have been formal, general, written apologies, the people have chosen to make personal, sacrificial decisions to forgive. They spoke of how much Christ has forgiven them, and how they pray for those who hurt them in the past, asking God to have mercy on those perpetrators and prevent the oppression from continuing to their descendants.

- Most importantly, I am reminded that God is living and active all over the world. The church in Alert Bay is strong and vibrant, though small. As Western Christians, we have so much to learn from our brothers and sisters in other cultures.

Continue to pray for the people of Alert Bay, especially that more people will know the freedom that comes from Jesus, freedom from alcohol, drugs, sin, and bitterness. Pray that they will miraculously be able to revive their language.

Thank you for your prayers and support!


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