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Language is the core of Lheidli T'enneh culture, says Chief Dolleen Logan

The host First Nation is welcoming community to National Indigenous Peoples Day festivities in the park Friday

Dolleen Logan understands the Dahelh language, the first language of her nation generations ago.

Understanding it is one thing. Speaking it is entirely different, and the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation chief admits she struggles to get the right words out.

“It’s amazing to hear the language and everyone speaking it, that’s the core of the culture,” said Logan. “Lheidli T’enneh, we’re trying to bring it back, with our elders, and hopefully we’ll all be able to speak it fluently soon.

“I did the course and got an A-plus but I’m not fluent,” she laughed. “I can hear it and I kind of know what they’re saying, but for me to repeat it, my mouth doesn’t work properly. It takes a lot of practice.”

It’s by design that National Indigenous Peoples Day happens at the start of summer and it appears the weather is going to cooperate. Friday is promising to be the hottest day of the year so far, heading for a sunny high of 26 C with no chance of rain.

“That’s perfect,” said Logan, “because that’s what First Nations do, they all get together to celebrate the first day of summer. I jokingly say that we all get to celebrate the first day of summer preparing for winter.”

In an interview with the Citizen before National Indigenous People Day on Friday, Logan provided a glimpse of some of her community's issues, events and achievements, as well as the organizational efforts of Lheidli T’enneh band council to make Prince George a better place to live.

The entertainment they have lined up for Friday’s festivities from noon-8 p.m. is an example of that.

There’s something for everybody, from the music of Kym Gouchie, Dani Lion and Mimi O’Bonsawin, to traditional dancers, singers and drummers dressed for the occasion, special attractions at The Exploration Place museum, and plenty of activities to keep kids occupied, including the Little Prince train rides, the park playground and the Rotaract water spray pad.

“The culture is amazing because every nation has something different – it’s so neat to see how many first nations that live so close together have different cultures,” said Logan. “The Dakelh language is everywhere but what we speak here is different even in Fort St. James/Vanderhoof, just slightly different dialects.

“When you go to Prince Rupert, they do the longhouses (traditional residential dwellings and we don’t. It’s interesting. Metis, Inuit, everybody does something different and it’s like a learning experience every time you get together.”

On Monday, it was exactly nine years ago Prince George city council voted to rename the city’s premier greenspace from Fort George Park to Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park. The park is the original site of the Lheidli T’enneh village.

“Everyone knows that’s the aboriginal village site so for them to change the name back to Lheidli T’enneh was a very proud moment, letting the world know that this is where our original site was,” said Logan. “The city’s is there for a partnership saying, yes this is the original site and we’re going to rename it to honour you.”

Logan and Mayor Simon Yu will be signing a memorandum of agreement at the park Friday afternoon, renewing the existing agreement between the two governments.

Visitors will see that the new 60-bed capacity daycare in the southeast corner of the park to be operated by the nation is nearing completion. It's set to open this fall. Known as Daycare In The Park, Logan says there’s a plan to have it open 24 hours per day to accommodate shift workers.

“We will need a lot of staff and we’re already discussing having elders come in to have storytime,” said Logan. “It’s going to be open for everyone, not just (Indigenous people).”

The Lheidli T’enneh Elders Society is now in its second year of operation and that group is actively involved in welcoming/opening ceremonies and efforts to revitalize the language and culture and the adoption of Dakelh names to existing buildings.

Logan, 56, a mother of two adult children and grandmother of five, became the first woman elected to a second two-year term as Lheidli T’enneh chief on April 8, 2023.

“It has its ups and downs but I love it,” said Logan, who also served seven years as a band councillor. “I love planning and thinking about the future. You plan for 50 years in a two-year term.”

In November 2022, Logan oversaw the opening of the Lheidli T’enneh Health Centre in the Northside subdivision. The centre employs a full-time nurse, student nurses and an on-call doctor and she says that has raised the level of healthcare significantly at the Shelley reserve.

“The main positive is we have elders who have a hard time getting out of their home and the doctor actually goes to see them at their house,” said Logan. “The nurses are there to visit and say hi and check on them. It’s been a huge success.”

There’s more housing about to be built in Shelley. Three new smaller detached homes will be ready in August and the band council is considering construction for an elders' housing complex and apartments on the reserve.

“The houses that exist there are for families and we don’t have anything for single people or couples,” she said. “We have a lot of people that want to move home but there’s no housing until we get the infrastructure in place.”

Plans are also in the works for digging new water wells and next on June 28 a groundbreaking ceremony will officially launch a new wastewater treatment system project built on the Northside to serve the entire village. It will replace the existing holding tanks/drain field system.

A bridge over the Fraser River is the biggest item on Logan’s wish list. Estimated to cost $42 million, it would connect the two subdivisions and pave the way for fire protection from Shell-Glen Volunteer Fire Department for the entire community.

Logan’s office in downtown Prince George in the Lheidli T’enneh office building at 150 Brunswick is the former home of the Prince George Citizen. That building and the House of Ancestors (Uda dune Baiyoh) at 355 Vancouver St., and adjacent parking lot off Fourth Avenue may soon be added to the nation’s reserve lands, an addition to the reserve's federal agreement endorsed by city council last week.

The House of Ancestors café, under head chef Tracey Speed, is open to the public for breakfast and lunch, and the nation also generates revenue by renting out the building’s hall space and conference area.

“I want to stop any rumours that we’re going to tear down those buildings and put in a casino, well no, we’re not,” said Logan. “We’re going to continue doing business as we are.”

On Tuesday, the street in front of the House of Ancestors will be closed to vehicles for an all-day barbecue/street party, which will include the unveiling of the clan sign of the Lheidli T’enneh.

Next Friday marks the start of the three-day John Cho Cup fastball tournament at Carrie Jane Gray Park.

“Baseball is huge and our membership loves going to it, it’s getting bigger and bigger every year,” said Logan. “It’s pride for watching their kids or family members play. Once a year everyone comes to that tournament because it’s such a huge success and it’s fun.

“Just make sure you bring a seat cushion because those benches are hard.”