The Ashcroft Band has been working on a number of projects, including a walking trail with benches and a seniors’ residence, and Band Administrator Jolene Blain wants to let local residents know that they are open to be used by all.
“We need to work on that ‘invisible line’ between Ashcroft and the reserve,” she says. “We need to let people [from Ashcroft] know that it’s okay to use the trail, that our softball fields are open for rental. And we’d like to have a path connecting the communities.”
She notes that the new six-unit seniors’ residence is also open to locals, not just Band members. Each unit is self-contained, with a wheelchair-accessible bathroom, full kitchen, bedroom, and open-plan main room, and each will come equipped with appliances, including a washer and dryer. Window coverings will also be included, and there will be easy access to a new greenhouse with raised beds, a fire pit, and the new roundhouse.
“We know that housing is an issue, and we’re excited to have this option,” says Blain. The units will be available to rent when work is complete, which is projected to be within the next two to three months.
A new glass mosaic was recently unveiled outside the seniors’ residence, and is the result of five months’ work by Band members and staff, who worked with glass mosaic artist Marina Papais and her husband, architect Daniel Collett. Diana Hoggard, the Band’s administration assistant and community liaison, took the Journal on a tour of various projects, and noted that the mosaic incorporates several elements that are of significance to the community, including a hidden bear’s claw and an arrowhead. Other features includes an eagle and salmon, the historic St. John’s church, homes on the reserve, feathers, and the road leading from the reserve to Ashcroft.
“People worked on the mosaic every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from April through September,” says Blain. “And we’re interested in doing some mosaics for the church windows.”
A new roundhouse beside the seniors’ residence is in the final stages of completion, and will include a kitchen and washroom. The building was donated by the Skeetchestn Band after the 2017 wildfire, and Blain says the intention is to use it as a community meeting place for Bingo, movie nights, presentations, special meals and events, and more. It will replace the meeting room on the ground level of the Band Office, which is no longer large enough to accommodate these events.
“The building will have chairs and tables, a projector, and a TV. We’re very excited to be able to use this as a community meeting space.”
A new greenhouse behind both buildings will go into use next year, and provide community members with an opportunity to do some gardening. Nearby is a covered fire pit, and Blain says it will be equipped with patio furniture, and that the entire area will be landscaped.
A second new greenhouse is at the community garden, and replaces one that was destroyed in the 2017 wildfire. Blain says that the garden employs two or three Band members each summer, who grow produce which is then distributed through the Health Centre on the reserve and used at the weekly community lunches.
“The new, bigger greenhouse gives us way more opportunities,” says Blain. “We canned a lot of produce this year to give away in hampers, and 2020 will be the first year for the new greenhouse. We keep trying to expand.”
Another expansion is the Ashcroft Indian Band Supplemental Meal Program, which has just started. The program will offer healthy, pre-prepared frozen meals for those in need, with priority given to Elders and those assessed by Home and Community Health Nurse Angie Pigeon as being in need of healthy meals, and who might not have the capability of cooking for themselves.
Across Cornwall Road from the Band Office, work has started on a new concession stand/washroom facility which will service the two new softball fields, as well as a planned new campground which will be between the concession and the Travel Centre. Blain says that they originally considered doing renovations to an existing building that had been built for the now closed Eagle Motorplex, but found that the reno costs would be about the same as tearing down the old building and constructing a new one.
“The building will have showers and wheelchair-accessible bathrooms, and a full concession that will look north over the ball fields. It really opens it up.”
The two softball diamonds — complete with dugouts — are scrupulously maintained, and Blain says that there is room beyond them for a soccer field, which is on the Band’s wish list if funding becomes available. Two kilometres of walking trails have been built around the fields, and this summer trees were planted at various spots to provide shade. Local businesses were approached about donating benches so that people using the trails could sit and rest, and the response was very positive, with benches now situated under many of the trees. Room has been left so that lighting could be installed at a future date.
“Health Centre staff take people for walks there,” says Blain. “We need to keep them clear or weeds will grow on them, and having people walk on them will do that. It would be cool to see people from Ashcroft and Cache Creek use them.”
Blain notes that a new maintenance shop has been built to replace the two maintenance buildings that were destroyed in 2017. Most of the Band’s historical records were lost with them, and the cemetery on the reserve suffered significant damage. A new fence has been built around the site, and Blain says that that’s just the start of what will be a big job.
“We plan to do new markers, and have done GPS at the site, and will get family members to fill in what they know about their families’ gravesite. We found a lot more gravesites than we expected.”
The last of the houses built to replace those lost in 2017 have been completed, and Blain notes that there is a conspicuous thing missing from each one that caused some blowback: none of them have a wood-burning fireplace.
It was a conscious decision following the disastrous 2017 wildfire season, and the community has been taking other firesmart measures, such as clearing sagebrush and educating residents about the danger of things like stacking firewood directly adjacent to a house. The First Nations Emergency Services Society of BC has certified the Ashcroft Reserve as a firesmart community, and says the Band is exceeding requirements. One major step has been the leasing of some Band land to the north of Cornwall Road to Bradner Farms, which is growing feed corn.
“Bradner has been a great partner,” says Blain, noting that the green fields — irrigated by pivot sprinklers which the Band purchased with a grant from the Rural Dividend Fund — help provide fire protection for the reserve.
Another partner is Dawson (formerly Interior Roads), which has leased land on the former motorplex site to construct a salt shed. “Having the trucks going in and out creates a buzz,” says Blain.
She notes that it is good to see people returning to the reserve. “People spread out after the fire, and it’s important to bring the community back. We’re looking for more economic development. Chief and council are very business-oriented, and always on the lookout for new businesses and partnerships.
“We’re doing lots of good things here, and are focusing on the positive stuff. We need to stay positive.”