Jason Louie is the elected Chief of the Lower Kootenay Band. (Photo credit Brian Lawrence)

Jason Louie is the elected Chief of the Lower Kootenay Band. (Photo credit Brian Lawrence)

Year in Review with Nasukin Jason Louie

It was another challenging year for the Lower Kootenay Band

While reflecting on 2021, Nasukin Jason Louie of the Lower Kootenay Band (LKB) said it has been another very long and difficult year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to create challenges for the community.

“We’ve been incredibly isolated, so we’re just trying our best to get through this,” said Louie, who has been in office since 2011.

In January 2021, Louie thought there was about to be a turning point when the LKB received early doses of the vaccine.

“The initial excitement was kind of deflated because the community wasn’t embracing it,” he said. “I thought there would be better reception, but there wasn’t. So, we just focused on those who wanted to get the vaccine.”

Council members and staff were vaccinated early in the year, and they continued to try to educate the rest of the community on the vaccine.

On Indigenous Peoples day on June 21, the LKB hosted a cross-border vaccine clinic in partnership with the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho.

READ MORE: Lower Kootenay Band announces cross-border COVID-19 vaccine clinic

“We pulled off mission impossible,” said Louie. “People came from all over, not just Creston, to be vaccinated. And every time the bus left full of people, I felt like we were striking a blow against COVID. I started thinking that we’re going to make it out of this thing.”

Case numbers were low during the summer and restrictions began to lift across B.C. However, it was a very trying time for the LKB as an outbreak was declared within the community.

“There was loss of life,” said Louie. “The gentleman who passed was around my age, and it hit home for me and a lot of other people. That was the turning point for vaccination within the community.”

As of December, approximately 90 per cent of LKB members are vaccinated with two doses, and booster clinics are now underway.

Even with the increase in vaccinations, Louie said that he has chosen to adhere to extra precautions and remain as isolated.

“I know that if I get sick, or worse, that it would not be a good thing for the community,” he said. “I have a bubble of about five or six people at work, but other than that, I’ve been isolated.”

As for many people, the last two years have been really detrimental on his mental health. He also has two daughters in the U.S. that he hasn’t been able to see.

“I was dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder before the pandemic, and it just intensified it,” said Louie. “It’s been really trying.”

2021 Projects of Note

On a positive note, the LKB has accomplished several impressive initiatives over the last year.

• Wellness Centre

Since 2019, construction has been underway on the 13,365-sq.ft. building that will serve as the health and administration hub for the LKB, valued at $6.2 million.

Now that it’s completed, staff will begin moving into the new wellness centre in January.

A new full-time nurse will be on staff, with regular check-ups available with two doctors on a monthly basis. A community bus will help provide transporation to the building.

Louie hopes that this move towards accessible health care will help improve quality of life for all LKB members.

READ MORE: Multi-million-dollar wellness centre for Lower Kootenay Band nears completion

• Meal Distribution

The LKB has continued to receive funding to provide free weekly meals to the community, such as chilli and chicken curry. Two staff members, Lindsay Floer and Chantelle Morin, cook and serve the food together every week.

It has provided community connection and something to look forward to on a regular basis. Thanks to the support from various grants, the initiative will continue into 2022.

• Memorial Garden

In October, the LKB completed a new memorial park, called Kulilu Garden, to remember the children who died between the 1940s and 60s from tuberculosis and polio.

The park features a beautifully-constructed gazebo that reflects the shape of a traditional roundhouse, which is an important aspect of Yaqan Nukiy culture.

READ MORE: Lower Kootenay Band completes memorial park and opens to the public

• Truth & Reconciliation Day

It was a devastating year for Indigenous communities across the country with the findings of hundreds of unmarked burials of children who attended residential schools.

The tragic discoveries have brought the horrors of these institutions to light, leading the Government of Canada to implement a new day meant for reflection.

On Sept. 3o, the LKB hosted an intimate ceremony to recognize the first annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

“When the news hit of the findings at St. Eugene’s in Cranbrook, I had a lot of resentment and anger,” said Louie. “I felt like this is the government’s attempt at putting a band-aid on things. But then I saw the overwhelming support from residents of the Creston Valley, and that changed my perspective. There are a lot of good people in this town. They sent us cash donations, gestures of goodwill, and their condolences, and it meant a lot to me.”

Next year, Louie hopes to host a large-scale ceremony when everyone is able to attend.

READ MORE: Lower Kootenay Band recognizes National Day for Truth and Reconciliation with private ceremony

Hopes for 2022

One of the things missed most by the LKB is hosting community events, such as the annual powwow in May. It was enjoyed by the general public with visitors travelling from across Canada and the U.S. to attend.

It is uncertain what 2022 will bring in terms of COVID-19 restrictions on events and gatherings, but Louie hopes to get back to in-person celebrations when possible.

“Realistically, we have no control over what’s happening in the world,” said Louie. “But as a town and a community, we can do our part. As dark and dismal as it might seem, try to stay optimistic and pull together. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

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