Ehatis is looking beyond the days of a strict pandemic lockdown with plans to build a central gathering place in the village next to Zeballos.
The Ehattesaht Chinehkint First Nation’s on-reserve community was hard hit by COVID-19 in recent months, with 28 confirmed infections out of Ehatis’s 102 residents. But work is underway to develop a site where people can connect once again, with a $304,500 grant awarded to the First Nation by the First People’s Cultural Council, a provincially owned Crown corporation that serves to revitalize Aboriginal culture and heritage in British Columbia.
With recently announced funding extending over three years, the nation can now proceed with its plans for nawaayisin – or Wisdom Bench – an “outdoor gathering space for transmission of traditional knowledge,” according to the project description. Initial plans are for the space to be built on an empty lot at the bottom of a hill in Ehatis where a house formally stood. The successful grant proposal describes a longhouse-style gazebo, a retaining wall painted with artwork and seating.
“We’ll be able to use that as a marshalling area for a post-COVID environment where we can gather and really work with our young people and reorient them,” said Victoria Wells, an Ehattesaht member who has led the project’s proposal. “The product and how it gets fully shaped is still subject to community input.”
The gathering space would be near a playground that is currently being built, and the project includes a safer pathway for children to travel from the site to the other side of the village.
“We have children that walk along an active logging road just to get from one section of the village to the other,” said Wells. “Just by the grace of God we haven’t had anybody injured. There have been a few close calls. Sometimes the kids actually ride their bikes from the top of the village down to the bottom and they can’t see any oncoming traffic.”
By the nawaayisin site are two dugout canoes growing back into the ground, and the project describes informative plaques that would link people to this part of Ehattesaht heritage. The wisdom bench concept draws on stories from elder Tom Curley about a gathering place at Queens Cove, which existed as a village long before the current settlement of Ehatis was re-established 28 years ago.
“At one time they would put a stick in the sand and they would talk until a certain time that the shadow would move to a different point on the sand,” said Wells. “It was a natural place where there was long discussion about the current state of affairs in community and what would be coming.”
The location at the head of the wharf on the Zeballos Inlet was also a popular spot for casual socializing.
“In Queen’s Cove it was called Bull***t Alley. People would hang out on Bull***t Alley and just talk,” said Wells. “At the head of the wharf, you see this in other villages and communities, it’s a natural gathering spot.”
Ehattesaht’s project is one of 11 selected by the First People’s Cultural Council out of 104 applications. Another $400,000 grant was awarded to the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ First Nation for a facility to house artifacts at its cultural centre.
These are part of a larger $100-million initiative from the provincial government to support economic and social recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.