With its very name meaning “place of refuge” in the local Salish dialect and its location on Sto:lo territory, Camp Squeah has always felt an innate connection with first nations. A new initiative at the camp is exploring ways to make greater connections with local indigenous people.

Although Camp Squeah is busy in summer months with traditional church camps, the rest of the year it relies on bookings from school and community groups to keep the camp going. A number of activities, such as archery and rope climbing, are offered under “outdoor education” for these groups.

Recently, program director Tim Larson had been thinking about ways to expand and strengthen the first nations connection with a different spin on outdoor education. “I feel strongly my own sense of grief over the past/current destruction of culture of those who preceded us here, and feel it’s a good and godly thing to get to know others and to become vulnerable with others, to build healthy relationships and dialogue,” he says.

Larson contacted Harvey Robinson, chief of the Klemtu First Nation, who lives in Hope, to see if he would be interested in educational programs at Squeah. Robinson was keenly interested and very willing to share with young people at Squeah his love of his people’s traditional culture and answer their questions.

“Harvey was great with the children and was excited to share his stories and culture,” reports Larson. “He managed to encourage a few children to dress in traditional native clothing and even a few were willing to sing and dance with him.” Additionally, Robinson brought along six large salmon that the Squeah kitchen staff barbecued and served to the whole school group of more than a hundred people.

Thus far, the first nations culture option has only been offered to school groups that come during the school year, and camp staff hope there will be more groups that take up the program in the coming months. “Our initial feedback indicates it’s a positive thing,” says camp director Rob Tiessen. “We may look into the possibility of expanding into the summer program.”

Camp staff hope that offering such programs to school groups will continue to enrich their lives and open their hearts, so that relationships with first nations people might grow and be enriched.

Adds Larson, “I hope, too, that our understanding and respect as staff from Squeah would also grow for each other and that, by association, our Mennonite folks might be blessed by these relationships.”

Mennonite Church B.C. indigenous relations coordinator Brander McDonald affirms the close relationship with indigenous people at camp. “The directors and leadership of Squeah are very aware of their neighbours and the need to continue to grow this relationship,” he says. “They have bought into the deep respect for relationship-building that our indigenous neighbours understand as a strong cultural value, and the main way to heal and to do the work of reconciliation. Squeah knows and holds this value.”