It’s been almost five years since the death of young Leo Ross, and members of the Pemberton and Mount Currie communities haven’t forgotten their tragic loss.
In May 2002, the 15-year-old Mount Currie resident was killed in an alcohol-fuelled beating at a well-known drinking hangout in Pemberton.
In the aftermath of the brutal death, Mount Currie and Pemberton citizens united to form the Winds of Change drug and alcohol task force, based on the shared belief that their communities suffered from substance abuse problems.
Shortly after the task force was struck in the spring of 2003, the group published a 17-page report that examined drug and alcohol problems within both communities, and concluded that to solve these issues, Mount Currie and Pemberton needed to work together. Since then, the Winds of Change committee has continued to work co-operatively on projects to make the Pemberton and Mount Currie area a healthier place to live.
“From my perspective, I like to look at it as the health of the mind, body and spirit,” said Maxine Bruce, one of the chairs of Winds of Change.
Bruce said it’s not just about drugs and alcohol, but about working together to explore “the whole concept of health.”
However, WOCs latest initiative is zeroing in on the issue of substance abuse; examining whether a drug and alcohol treatment facility is necessary, or possible, in the Pemberton area.
Through a $35,000 grant provided by UBCM, the WOC committee hired NG Bach & Associates. Company President Rick FitzZaland began the consultation process in early summer, gathering information through focus groups, individual interviews and joint meetings. He has also been examining models and standards from other areas to see what could work for the Pemberton valley.
“We want to give them the tools they need to do this next step and really to give them the information they need, some strategies, and help them in putting together a plan that has some chance of working and of supporting their other efforts,” FitzZaland said last week.
He says it is important to understand that treatment is part of the overall health of the community, but isn’t the whole solution, as it doesn’t address underlying issues that lead to substance abuse problems.
“The real need is for specific programs that are well-integrated with the work that’s being done by both communities in the Pemberton valley to improve the health of the community.”
Lori Pilon, administrator for the Village of Pemberton, says the working relationship between the WOC’s First Nations and non-native groups has taken a while to develop but it is unique.
“Initially we spent our time and our efforts in building a relationship where we could come to the same table and have, say, joint council meetings or elders gatherings together,” said Pilon.
FitzZaland agrees this relationship is very important.
“I think the level of co-operation, the amount of shared vision is pretty unique and holds a lot of promise for them,” said FitzZaland.
“…Clearly they’re not just standing on the side asking for someone to fix their problems, but they’re rolling up their sleeves to do the right thing for their community, so I think that they have a lot of assets of their side to make this work.”
Now, the WOC committee is ready to move forward to explore the feasibility of drug and alcohol treatment options for the region. Pilon says an actual centre may not necessarily be the solution to local drug and alcohol issues; it may simply be a matter of enhancing existing services.
“We want to explore what combination works and fits for the valley,” she said.
FitzZaland agrees, and says a big part of the ongoing study is about determining what is appropriate for their specific communities.
If Pemberton and Mount Currie decide to develop a treatment centre or program, they must present a business case to Vancouver Coastal Health if they hope to receive funding and support.
Viviana Zanocco, senior media relations officer for VCH, hadn’t heard of Winds of Change’s current study, but said VCH funds many programs and projects.
“A lot of support recovery operators, they’re out there and we fund them,” said Zanocco.
If the community decides to pursue a treatment centre or program, and they want support from VCH, Zanocco says they can submit a business case that identifies who would be helped by the service, how it will help, and what resources and partners they would work with.
NG Bach & Associates’ final report and findings will include a business case for provincial and federal funding agencies.
After they release their recommendations, Bruce says she isn’t sure what the WOCs next step will be, but is optimistic that the study will produce numbers for the committee to work with, and allow them to move forward.
“In any case, it’s a really constructive, positive process the communities are involved in.”
FitzZaland plans to present a draft report outlining their findings to the WOC committee this week, and, based on their approval, will present recommendations to the public at open houses on Oct. 17 in Pemberton and Oct. 18 in Mount Currie.