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PLAY Program Supports Youth Connection to Land and Culture

Esk'etemc FN Hero Img

Along the Fraser River in Central B.C., Right To Play community partner Esk’etemc First Nation is fostering youth connection to Secwépemc cultural traditions.

“I got into sewing when I was representing our school district as their First Nations Role Model”, Right To Play Community Mentor (CM) Dallas explains. “A lot of regalia and stuff is quite expensive if you don’t know how to sew... I knew how to sew from my high school education, so I started making my own patterns and learning from other people,” he shares.

That was in 2018, around the time Dallas got involved with the Youth Center in Esk’etemc. “I looked at how many kids wanted to learn, and then I bought a few rolls of fabric and ribbon,” and it took off from there. Since then, Dallas has hosted belt, fan, and bustle making workshops in addition to teaching youth how to make ribbon skirts and shirts. Often, workshops will be open to family members and turn into an intergenerational event. “It’s really popular,” Dallas says, “people really like learning.”

Click here to see some highlights from regalia workshops

Dallas is inspired by creators like Sophie Bob and Sherry Mckay, and brings ideas back to the Right To Play program from workshops he attends in B.C. and Alberta, Secwépemc territory and beyond. “I enjoy learning about the meanings of why we wear [ribbon skirts and shirts]. Like, for women, it’s their connection to mother earth – that's why you see the fringe on the sides – and the length is supposed to touch the tall grass when they’re walking, so it’s like their connection to earth... for the men, it’s like the ribbon hanging off of the shirt is to let go of any negative energy that is happening to you or coming at you from someone else.”

Carla*, a Right To Play program participant, shares “Dallas is the one who taught me to make ribbon skirts last year.” Dallas adds, “Carla didn’t know how – she would ask me to make her one, so I said, well, let’s go step by step... and now she even makes her own for others in the community.”

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the kids. That’s what drives me to come to work.” - Dallas

After attending the community’s Right To Play programming for 5 years, earlier this year Carla was hired on part-time by the Youth Center to be an on-call youth worker, supporting CM Dallas with programs like Right To Play. She is also a member of the Nation’s Youth Council. An avid soccer player, Carla finds she has naturally begun to take on a leadership role with younger youth since participating in program: “I taught Callum* to do the rainbow kick, you know – the donkey kick – with the soccer ball”, she says.

The cultural programming Dallas puts on for the youth doesn’t stop at regalia making either, he explains, “I think a big one too is our land-based programming; last year we took kids fishing to one of our fishing spots on the Fraser River and we caught fish, and the next day we took it to our school to cut and then all of our grandmothers came and showed us how to dry salmon. Then we gave it to community members when it was all said and done.”

Esk-etemc FN - Img 2

Before 2018, the community had gone 5 years without youth programming after their Youth Center was condemned. Dallas shares, “I think that’s [where my passion comes] from; from kids not having a Youth Center to go to. It’s just the kids,” he says sincerely, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the kids. That’s what drives me to come to work.”

His passion and care do not go unnoticed. When asked what the Right To Play program means to her, Carla says, “I feel like Right to Play helps me get out there, like, I used to just be at home… but now I come here all the time. [As] a youth, I can always come here.”

*Names have been changed.