Stellat'en Wellness Centre opens

Being together, healing, feeling connected, and embracing the future.

Ideas became a reality at the grand opening of the Stellat'en Wellness Centre on Thursday.

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Pictures of band members, past and present wearing traditional regalia, engaging in cultural practices, filled the hallways.

People wandered and stopped to look at a rich history, including a homage to war veterans and pictures of students who attended Lejac Residential School.

Stellat'en First Nation, a member of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council in Fraser Lake, celebrated the event with a ribbon cutting and open house to coincide with their popular Salmon Fest event.

"It is a celebration. This unique, one of a kind building is here because of the great effort of so many people and the outcome is spectacular," said Stellat'en Band member Peter Luggi.

Luggi was behind the scenes from beginning to end and says that this is a clear representation of the people and for the people of Stellat'en as each clan is represented inside and out of the building.

From one idea grew many more as a dedicated bunch began the process over a year ago,including: Luggi, health representative Cynthia Munger, the First Nations Health Authority, Carrier and Sekani Family Services and Stellat'en First Nation.

Architect Richard Evans says that the eagerness of the community is what made the process such a huge success.

And for Luggi, it truly was a team effort as he looks at the many pictures of his band, past and present.

"Everyone came together and a lot of the pictures here are of our elders and chiefs. There is salmon fishing, you see moose meat and berry picking. It's all very cultural," Luggi said.

Kevin Wallace, from Wallace Studios in Vanderhoof, was eager to assist in reproducing and displaying the photos.

"It's very emotional to finally see these people on the walls. This will help everyone feel a special connection," Wallace said.

"The concept was to represent everyone, to make history happen, as it happens. And this is something that can continue for years to come."

And the connection doesn't stop inside.

A path from the wellness centre leads to a lush community garden as children pick strawberries and apples.

A smoke house, complete with a ceiling full of salmon, was ready to welcome visitors to take a quick peek inside.

"This is a special place," said Betty Ann Heron, who spends much time preparing delectable salmon dishes in the house.

Her nephew, David Louis, a firefighter, passed away suddenly last December and in memory of him, the grounds will be named "The Willow Gathering Place."

"This was a very special place for him. He spent much time here," Heron said.

For Stellat'en, the centre will focus on healing.

"This is all about better living and better quality of health," said Munger.

"This place is about health and so is the community garden. We need to go back to the land."

There are 500 members from Stellat'en First Nation and about 250 live on reserve land.

Dr. John Pawlovich has worked with the Stellat'en community for over 20 years and as medical director for Carrier Sekani Services, he has witnessed the community eagerly change with the times.

"In 2011, we developed a new model of care, and a primary care team was also developed to incorporate community visits with virtual care including tele-health," Pawlovich said.

"These communities have really embraced technology and their access to care."

There are four family physicians and a host of specialists, consultants, counselors and care workers available to assist the community.

"The centre is a reflection of the people even from the negotiation and the design of it.

"This is their wellness home," Pawlovich said.

"It encompasses culture, community and wellness that is progressive."

Visitors from near and far came to partake in the day's festivities.

Tamara Mose, a trauma nurse from Winnipeg, was thrilled to come back home.

"I'm originally from here. I brought my son here to learn his roots," Mose said.

"I heard about the wellness centre opening and to see it with all clans represented, it's amazing. I always wanted to come back."

Here sister, Rhonda Mose, also a nurse working in Fort Francis, Ont., joined her sister on the visit home.

"I am learning so much and seeing the opening was something very special," Rhonda said.

Food was at the centre of the celebration as hundreds gathered to share in the many cultural favorites, including salmon head soup.

"We have all come together. We need this for our own mental and physical health," Stellat'en Chief Archie Patrick said.

"We have a new freshly scrubbed building with new freshly scrubbed ideas. Historically, we've been taken from and because of this we became dependent on government.

"And from it came much prejudice and hatred. This is not healthy and we are pulling ourselves out of it. Today's opening is a symbol of that."

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