Carving a wellness journey in Pacheedaht First Nation

Dr. Sarah Wright Cardinal and elected Council member Tracy Charlie of the Pacheedaht First Nation (PFN), are co-leading a ground-breaking project, Reclaiming Nuu-chah-nulth teachings to empower and strengthen the roles and responsibilities of Pacheedaht young men.

With two years of funding from SSHRC, they are developing a community wellness model that addresses mental health protective factors for youth, in particular young men, in a rural and remote Indigenous community.

The project’s centrepiece is a 33-foot cedar dugout canoe by Nuu-chah-nulth Master Carver Micah Hawt’wilth’iayatuk McCarty. Over four months, Hawt’wilth’iayatuk taught his relatives, including two young male Apprentices, children, youth and community members to carve the canoe, in so doing enlivening the ancestral and local land and water-based knowledge at home in the village and nurturing strong kinship family systems.

Also part of the project are wrap around winter and spring activities including a Culture Night to awaken songs and dances; an Elder-youth community arts night; and the development of a bilingual Ditidaht-English curriculum and children’s ebook Bringing the čupuc to life.

Working with the PFN Education Department, the curriculum development is led by Social Dimensions of Health PhD student and project Research Assistant, Ta Liais Trena Black. Black is a member of T’Sou-ke Nation with matrilineal ties to Pacheedaht.

Black’s curriculum will be used in the community school and the canoe will be paddled for years to come. Both are integral to a ceremonial, education, and community wellness journey where all resources stay in the community.

Cardinal guides the UVic team with a helper approach to research that respects the intellectual property of the nations we work with. An Assistant Professor in the School of Child and Youth Care, Cardinal is also a faculty member in the Social Dimensions of Health program.

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