The staff of Laichwiltach Family Life are gearing up to celebrate the society’s 20th anniversary on Oct. 12.

Cultural traditions source of Laichwiltach Family Life’s strength

The society prides itself on collaborating with many partners on northern Vancouver Island

Laichwiltach Family Life Society was named in honour of the Laichwiltach territory where the organization is located.

“We named the society after the people of this land, with thanks for allowing those who are visitors to live on their traditional lands,” says Audrey Wilson, LFLS executive director.

Laichwiltach Family Life Society strives to make services accessible, adaptable, culturally-appropriate, and respectful for Aboriginal community members living on and off reserve. A team of over 30 skilled staff – many of them Aboriginal – provide these services. Their programs and services cover the entire life cycle and include baby groups, parent-tot, preschool, parenting programs, youth outreach and support, counselling and addiction recovery, employment skills training, an elders’ activity group, research projects, referrals, supervised visitation, and community-wide events.

The society prides itself on collaborating with many partners on northern Vancouver Island. LFLS currently has partnerships with Kwakiutl District Council Health Office, K’omoks First Nation, and Mamalilikulla Qwe’ Qwa’ Sot’em Band for addictions funding; Ann Elmore Transition House and Campbell River Family Services on a Stopping the Violence initiative that also serves Gold River; Campbell River Parks & Recreation for summer recreational activities for children in grades 3-6 and a Youth to Youth program that is open to the community at large; the BC Success by Six program for coordinating services for young children and holding a children’s health fair and other community gatherings; and the BC Ministry for Children and Family Development for an Aboriginal Child and Youth Mental Health program.

Throughout all of these programs, Laichwiltach Family Life Society strives to return to the source of their cultural traditions, doing what Aboriginal people have done since time immemorial – centering families, respecting elders, and engaging in talking circles.

“We are enriched by the many First Nations and Métis cultures that community members bring to the programs and that come alive for children and youth as a source of pride and strength,” Wilson says.

Laichwiltach Family Life Society in Campbell River, was created 20 years ago to provide respectful, culturally-based programs for First Nations and Métis families living in urban and on-reserve communities on northern Vancouver Island. Many people describe the non-profit society as a lifeline.

The society started with family violence prevention groups and individual counselling, but its programs have steadily grown in scope, scale, and geographic reach. They now serve anyone of Aboriginal ancestry, with or without Indian or Métis status, living on or off-reserves, as well as non-Aboriginal partners living with an Aboriginal person. The client base includes many Aboriginal people who have moved to the region from other parts of Canada, and many children who move from the west coast of Vancouver Island to spend the winter months with family in Campbell River.

Laichwiltach fills persisting gaps in services and cultural safety in the mainstream service system. It promotes cultural learning and positive identity by providing culturally based, community-driven programming.

The Laichwiltach story begins in 1991, when four First Nations women on northern Vancouver Island broke the silence around domestic violence. Audrey Wilson of We Wai Kai First Nation (Cape Mudge), Pauline Janyst of Da’naxd’xw First Nation (Harbledown Island), Barb Mitchell of K’omoks First Nation (Comox), and Lorna Quatell of Wei Wai Kum First Nation (Campbell River) wanted to provide a safe place where Aboriginal women who were experiencing domestic violence could get help and support. The need for such a nurturing place was desperate in an area where pervasive racism created huge barriers to services for First Nations people.

For Janyst, the society’s founding administrator and program coordinator, establishing the Laichwiltach Family Life Program was a dream come true. Janyst realized that she really wanted to dedicate her time and energy to her own people. As a First Nations woman who volunteered as a victim services worker, she was all too familiar with the denial that existed in mainstream community agencies – denial about the needs of family members living from crisis to crisis and denial about the lack of culturally-safe counselling and family intervention services for First Nations women seeking help.

In 1991, Janyst approached three women from other First Nations in the region who shared her concerns and goals. These four women went on to become the founders of the Laichwiltach Family Life Society. In those early months, the women met around a kitchen table or at office space loaned to them by the Kwakiutl Territorial Fisheries Commission (now A-Tlegay). They shared their dreams for supporting families in their communities and discussed how to make them a reality.

Laichwiltach Family Life Society celebrates 20 years of service on Friday, Oct. 12 at 441- 4th Ave from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

A video called “Lifeline” Creating a Community Service Hub for Aboriginal Children and Families documenting the story of the life and breath of the society will be shown at 1 p.m. along with a booklet.