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I took a deep breath. The bear, just 30 feet away, was looking right at me. His body turned toward me as I raised my bow.
I drew back to fire and waited for the breeze to die down. The wind whistling through the tall fir trees was the only sound I could hear. The bear’s piercing eyes seemed to stare deep into my soul.
My heart pounding, I let the arrow fly. It went sailing into the archery net, a full foot away from my target. The stuffed bear continued to turn in the wind…
It was a sunny afternoon on Penelakut Island. Tim Christensen and I were shooting arrows with Sebastian, one of the young men involved with ROOTS.
Now that my turn was over, Sebastian stepped up to the firing line.
He nocked an arrow and let it fly towards the bear. The poor stuffed animal never stood a chance.
“I feel like a warrior,” Sebastian said with a smile.
“Well that’s exactly how you should feel,” replied Tim, before launching an arrow himself.
It was a simple moment. One I could have easily missed. But I realize now that something significant was going on beneath the surface of that short conversation…
For the last month or so, I’ve been spending time on Penelakut Island with ROOTS (Reclaiming Original Outdoor Technology and Skills), a program that partners with leaders and elders from the Penelakut Nation to help the community find hope and true healing.
Tal James and Tim Christensen, the NAIM leaders of ROOTS, teach Penelakut kids and adults things like archery, kayaking, fishing and camping to help them rediscover the dignity of their past.
The program lets Penelakut kids like 17-year-old Sebastian reconnect with skills and technologies that once defined their culture; things they should be proud of.
Beyond Summer Camp
Now, it would be easy to think of ROOTS as some sort of run-of-the-mill outdoor youth program. I’ll admit that I saw it that way initially.
When I pictured kids outside doing activities like archery and kayaking, images from summer camp popped into my head. Wacky leaders, capture the flag, singing “Friends Are Friends Forever” around a campfire…
But the more time I’ve spent tagging along with Tim and Tal, the more I’ve realized that ROOTS is far more important than summer camp for the people of Penelakut.
And it all goes back to the reason why ROOTS is here.
As I’ve written in previous articles, the Penelakut people have a lot of healing to do. Unspeakable racism, systemic poverty, significant unemployment and the wounds of the horrific residential school system have all left deep marks on the community to this day.
Over the last 150 years, First Nations people across the Northwest Coast have been told in ways explicit and implicit that they should be ashamed of their culture. That they should stop being “Native” and start acting “White”.
This constant barrage of injustice and shame has sunk roots of brokenness into First Nations communities.
A Different Message
The ROOTS program, on the other hand, comes bearing an entirely different message for the people of Penelakut.
That message, simple but profound, is this: “You have value.”
This, says Tal, is value not only in the eyes of the world, but in the eyes of the Creator as well. As he recently told me, “The Creator wants First Nations to experience his love to help make a complete culture more complete in all ways; spiritually, socially and emotionally.”
After the things I’ve learned about First Nations history, this strikes me as a great perspective. With a long history of outsiders coming in to say, “You have to be someone else,” it is remarkably refreshing to see a ministry that says, “Be who you are.”
Tal and Tim work tirelessly with the leaders and elders of the community to provide engaging and dignifying experiences for young people on the island.
By taking kids on “survival” camping trips, Tal and Tim prove to the kids they are capable of something they never thought they could do before. Through awesome archery and kayaking experiences, the kids find self-confidence and learn the joys of being out in nature.
One of Thousands
It’s been said that the roots of the past bear fruit in the present. On Penelakut Island, the roots of a broken past continue to bear fruit of brokenness today.
But Tal and Tim have dedicated their lives to replacing these broken roots with roots of hope and healing.
This is why Sebastian’s simple statement is so profound. By reconnecting with his culture and history through archery, Sebastian feels pride in his identity. By practicing and improving his skills, he is growing in his self-worth.
This single moment was one of hundreds happening all over Penelakut Island. Because of ROOTS and initiatives like it, this community is bearing new fruit.
“I feel like a warrior,” he told us.
And you know what, Sebastian?
That’s exactly how you should feel!
- You can directly help students like Sebastian by supporting the Grade 6/7 Class at the Penelakut Island Elementary School as they raise money for a camping trip with ROOTS. Take a look at www.worldnextdoor.org/roots to see the video they created!
- If you want to invest directly in the work of ROOTS, click here (be sure to designate your gifts to “KWT – R.O.O.T.S. Outdoor Program”).
- Pray for the young people of Penelakut. Pray that they would continue to discover their true identity.
About the Author: Barry is the founder and director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.