Monday, 1 February 2016

Boothroyd Indian Band Bike Park - Part Two

This is the second of a two part post: the Boothroyd Indian Band Bike Park (Part One

You know you’re on to something when you show up to a community early on a cold, wet, rainy Saturday morning and there’s a group of boys impatiently waiting for you.

We pull up and climb out of the car, stiff from three hours of driving up from Vancouver and through the Fraser Canyon to Boothroyd, a small Nlaka’pamux community just north of Hope, BC. 
The boys, ranging in ages from six to seventeen immediately crowd around our car. 
Where have you been?  We’ve been waiting forever!  Let’s get going!
Before we know what’s going on, the kids are grabbing all kinds of tools and materials out of our vehicle and running in all directions.  Chaos.  I’m thinking someone’s going to get killed or seriously maimed.
We’re in the community for the next two days to work with the boys and the community to build a bike skills park, the culmination of several months of meetings and planning.  The boys have been part of every step, patiently sitting through meetings and waiting as we worked to get the funding in place.  Finally, the day has arrived and they couldn’t be more excited, buzzing around our car like hyper animated locusts. 

In all the years I’ve worked in First Nation communities, desperately trying to connect with youth and engage them in the community planning and development process, I’ve never seen anything like the energy buzzing around us.  For the next two days, all of the kids, including both boys and girls, from the very youngest to the oldest, will work themselves to the point of exhaustion, ten hours each day, to complete their new bike park (not to mention holding a seemingly endless game of floor hockey in the evening). 
My favourite moment comes when some of the parents came down to see the bike park.  They stand watching their kids work with a look of astonishment on their faces, commenting that they had never seen their kids working so hard. 

Riding saves lives

For many people, myself included, mountain biking was a lifesaver when we were kids.  Riding gave us freedom, granting us the means to get outside and escape the concrete and manufactured landscapes of our suburban lives.  Riding our Canadian Tire specials we explored the urban parks and hidden forests and rediscovered the sense of wonder that comes from connecting with nature and find our own way in the world.  It was the one activity we had where we felt like we were in control, when we could come together in a group and, rather than compete against each other, we would support and cheer one another on as we took on increasingly difficult challenges.  It was liberating and it gave us the confidence we needed to navigate our lives.    Watching and working with the kids in Boothroyd, I could sense that same excitement and hunger.
Throughout all the planning projects I have worked on, the need to engage youth has been a consistent theme throughout all the community engagement and discussions.  I  have sat and listened to countless elders and leaders speak about the kids in their communities with a growing sense of desperation and fear.  Alcoholism.  Drug addiction.  Sedentary lifestyles.  Diabetes.  Obesity. Social isolation. Suicide.  Any indicator for community health and well being that you can think of, Aboriginal youth in Canada are facing more challenges than any other demographic. 
Many First Nation communities and organizations are addressing these challenges in highly creative and innovative ways with great success.  As Boothroyd explained to me during the Visioning and Strategic Planning project, there is always a need to develop new and engaging ways to connect with youth.  To provide them with the skills and self-confidence and sense of identity they need to navigate their world. 

This Bike Park is Ours!

The most important aspect of our weekend in Boothroyd is that the bike park project was initiated and directed by the kids themselves.  It was the kids who had been relentless in clearly articulating what they wanted to the Chief and Council, knocking at their office doors for the previous two years asking for assistance in building a park.  It was the kids who showed their determination by going out and building their own trails and features every chance they could. 
In preparing for the weekend, we had met with the kids and followed them around the community as they showed us what they had built and listened as they told us what they wanted: a ‘learning square’ they could use to practice their skills, a pump track, and one fairly large gap jump for the bigger kids. 

Their pride is evident as we watch one of the youngest boys stand atop the jump at the end of the weekend with his arms over his head shouting, THIS PARK IS OURS!

Definitely on to something

By the end of the weekend we’re exhausted and worn out as we stand back and watch the kids trying out their new features, pump track and gap jump. 

The Chief walks over and stands next to me.  A man of few words, we have only spoken on a few occasions.  We stand for a moment watching the kids play in the park, launching off the jump and hurling themselves around the pump truck laughing and yelling encouragement to one another.  

The Chief turns and looks at me and with one arm he makes a sweeping pointing gesture at the park, the kids, and everything we’ve accomplished, looks me in the eye and gives an almost imperceptible nod and then embraces me in an enthusiastic bear hug.  He lets me go and turns and walks away.  I could not have received a greater confirmation of what the project meant to the community. 

In that moment I realize I've tapped into something I must continue to explore.

A couple of years on 

It's been a couple of years since we completed the Boothroyd Bike Park and each time I've returned to the community I'm elated to see that the bike park is still in use and the kids pride and sense of ownership remain intact.  I learned that they've become ferociously protective of their park.  It was the kids that protected it when one boy tried to set the learning square on fire, rushing over to tamp out the flames.  When the Band needed a place to put firewood it was the kids who came together to insist the pump track remained intact.  And it's been the kids who have kept using the park and ensuring it didn't become overgrown with weeds.   The bike park is still theirs.   

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