Spotlight: Okanagan Similkameen CAPC Programs

Photo Credit: Unsplash User Ricky Turner

Photo Credit: Unsplash User Ricky Turner

The Ki‐Low‐Na Friendship Society works primarily with urban aboriginal families. Very few of them live on reserve or are closely connected with their band or extended family and this can create a lack of community. Traditionally, aboriginal people lived and worked closely together; the whole community would help raise the children.

One of the most rewarding experiences for Elya Martinson, CAPC Coordinator at the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society, is that their CAPC family has formed its own little community. She continually sees the families supporting and encouraging each other. If someone needs something, be it physical, emotional, mental or spiritual, their group of parents has the capacity to help each other.

Elya cites a recent example of a single mom of 2 young girls, whose only form of getting around is her stroller and city transit.  The mom reached out to the program coordinator when her stroller’s tire snapped off in a snowbank. She was devastated as it is nearly impossible for her to get to her daughter’s school without it!

The mom asked for help to find a replacement.  Elya put it on a local “moms’ supporting moms’” Facebook group. Right away, one of the CAPC moms from the program responded that she had one she could give her. Elya was able to drop it off and the mom was so appreciative. She was amazed that her need was filled so quickly! Elya says, “This is what community is about; families supporting, encouraging and empowering other families.”

Despite the strengths of the program, there are also challenges.  The CAPC program shares space within the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society, which means complete set up and take down for every session. For those who attend by car, parking in the neighbourhood is expensive, close to $5 in parking meter charges for a program session.  The location of the centre is in the city’s “red zone”, which means that some parents who have struggled with addictions and who have been banned from the downtown area are not able to access programming with their children, and a 24-hour drop-in homeless shelter positioned across the street from the programming location makes some families feel unsafe accessing the program.  Budget limitations make it very difficult to provide childminding for parenting/cooking programs, or to acquire culturally sensitive resources and materials or participate in cultural activities and field trips.  Elya puts a lot of time and energy into resourcing and creating cultural materials for the program.

Nevertheless, the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society CAPC group’s programming has included:

  • Traditional medicine picking, smudging, drum and rattle making
  • Physical activity together (hikes, beach days, swimming etc.)
  • Community Kitchen where they teach families healthy cooking and send them home with a tasty meal!
  • Baby Blanket Ceremony, where they have been able to welcome the newest members of their community and honour them individually.
  • Participation in the BC Farmer’s Market Coupon Program (the families expressed how helpful this is for them in offering fruit and veggies)
  • Traditional Parenting Groups
  • Collaborating with other Community Organizations like Cobs Bakery, Peter’s Your Independent Grocer, Okanagan Heritage Museum etc.

For almost all of the families in the program, without CAPC, they would not be able share and learn some of these cultural pieces with their children.

Elya comments about her personal growth as a facilitator and about what she is learning about the aboriginal culture that she can bring back to her own family.  The feedback she receives from participants valuing her commitment to the programs and families is deeply meaningful to her.

Elya has seen several families be reunited with their kids after they have been removed from the Ministry. Many of the moms did not know how to parent their kids any better. They were not raised with strong mother or father figures due to generational trauma from the residential schools. The parenting programs have assisted them in increasing their skills and CAPC was a safe place for them to bring their kids and work on attachment and bonding. The program coordinator comments that she feels so proud to see the hard work these moms are doing, and it paying off with the kids being reunited with their parent(s).

Elya says, “If we continue to invest in our children, it will pay off in the end. We can only do what we know.  When we know better, we do better.”

Through Desert Sun Counselling & Resource Center in Oliver, a Community Kitchen has been actively running in the Oliver/Osoyoos area for over six years. This program has recently been through a sad loss which has demonstrated the strength and closeness they have developed as a caring community of families.

Over the years, the program has seen many families come and go, and some have made a larger presence than others. One such family is that of an older mom with a past history of addiction, who was starting on a new path with her second family, a family that she vowed to “do better” by than she had with her first. When she first started attending she came with her first son, then one, and two years later with her new born son. She attended regularly and it soon became apparent, both the mom herself, and to others, that her oldest son was a challenge.

She sought out help from whoever would listen … doctors, specialists, and eventually Children’s Hospital. Her partner worked out of town, “up north”, and was able to spend very little time at home with the mom and the boys, which compounded the stress. Last year her “first family” came into town and the unravelling started. Slowly she started using again … until she got lost in the addiction.

She lost the fight in March 2018. Her kindness and gentleness was felt by all … the women at the Community Kitchen, all grieving her loss, baked and prepared for weeks to provide food for her service.

The Community Kitchen facilitator, Nancy Aatelma, comments, “The Kitchen has become a place where not only is there food security but friendships are made and nurtured. Her boys will never be alone as they will always have the ‘kitchen moms’ looking out for them.”

Nelli Agbulos