Coqualeetza Elders’ group dissolved

Group member Shirley Leon said she and many of the elders are upset by the move to axe the elders' group program

A founding member of Coqualeetza Elders’ group is asking that a decision to dissolve the longstanding Chilliwack-based group be reversed.

Group member Shirley Leon said she and many of the elders are upset by the move to axe the program made by the Coqualeetza Cultural Education Centre’s board of directors in December.

The elders’ group has used that name for more than 40 years, whether for weekly luncheons, going to the B.C. Elders’ Conference or travelling across North America for cultural exchanges.

“We want to remain the Coqualeetza Elders’ group, and we want to remain part of the Cultural Education Centre because of the legacy created by our forerunners,” said Leon.

The elders were notified that it’s now forbidden for them to use the name “Coqualeetza” and that the group would no longer be affiliated with the centre’s programs, in a letter signed by president Brenda Point, and five others, dated Jan. 30 from the Coqualeetza Cultural Education Centre authority.

Although no rationale was given to explain the decision, the CCEC board stated it had to “review its mandate for program funding and service delivery” in the letter.

Leon said she was inspired by the Idle No More movement to try to take action.

“Injustices and accountability can demanded by memberships,” she wrote in a letter to The Progress about the dramatic changes made by the board. “Let’s demand rescinding of the resolution for the Coqualeetza Elders Group to be unilaterally dissolved.”

The elders provided the language database for the education centre, and are acknowledged for their many cultural contributions.

Leon is a former employee and founding member of the Coqualeetza Cultural Education Training Centre, dating back to 1973.

“I was willing to go to jail to protect the Coqualeetza property,” she said.

Leon has also been a member of the elders’ group since retiring from the Cultural Centre in 2007.

The elders’ group members had been working on what to do next when the letter from the board arrived officially notifying them that the group was being dissolved.

“It just blows me away,” Leon said. “I cannot understand this. It’s been so stressful for the elders. It hurts.”

CCEC Board President Brenda Point did not return calls from the Progress.

Sto:lo Tribal Council president and Grand Chief Doug Kelly was privy to the correspondence and letters about the elders’ group decision as STC president. He used to sit on the CCEC board and is aware of cultural value it provides Sto:lo communities. The role of the Elders’ Group from the outset was to help staff at the centre provide culturally appropriate teachings.

Recent federal cuts to culture and language programs may have been a factor in the decision to dissolve the group, making it difficult for the CCEC to operate within its limited means.

“It’s my understanding that this was driven by cold, hard economics,” said Kelly.

“I’m quite certain this was not an easy decision. But the board is doing its best to manage change, and I support this effort.”