FVACFSS Spring Newsletter – 2023


Message from the board of directors 

Fraser Valley Aboriginal Children & Family Services Society

Sqwélqwel  -  Xyólheméylh Spring 2023 Newsletter

Board President Jennifer Janik.

Xyólheméylh Board of Directors President’s Message

Ey Swayel – Good Day,

We hope you’re enjoying the warmer weather and welcome to our spring newsletter! In this edition you’ll find articles about what we’ve been up to over the past winter months, as well as profiles on some of our valued Xyólheméylh work family including our Elders, caregivers, board members and community partners, with an update on our youth advisory group, Visions and Voices. We will also tell you about some upcoming events this spring and summer. For more details on these events, please follow us on Facebook or visit our website in the coming months.

After three years of the Covid pandemic, we are excited to be hosting our first in person staff appreciation. We honoured all our staff and acknowledged staff for their years of service. We were excited to be able to celebrate and acknowledge them for their good work.  

Our Resource team held an out of care appreciation event on March 8th at the Sumas Longhouse to show our appreciation to our caregiver support parents. We are currently recruiting and have been receiving a wonderful response through a campaign on Facebook. If you are interested in becoming a caregiver support parent, we hold information sessions on the second Wednesday of the month at 6:30 pm and the third Tuesday of the month at noon. If you are interested please contact Norma Commodore at [email protected].

Our Board held our Dreams and Vision day in March where we reviewed and affirmed our commitment to our seven strategic goals: 1) Ensure a Culturally Vibrant Workplace; 2) Sound Human Resources Processes and Procedures; 3) A Place Where Employees are engaged, make a difference and are accountable; 4) Sound Financial Management and Reporting; 5) Build and Strengthen Relationships with Communities; 6) Strengthen Delegated Programs to ensure culturally relevant practice that is compliant with standards; 7) Enhance Family Strengthening Programs that are culturally relevant and promote family and community involvement. We will continue to work on our strategic goals at our Strategic planning session in June.

Melath’i:yatel – Jennifer Janik

President, Xyólheméylh Board of Directors

Message from Executive Leadership Team


Earlier in April, we held a retirement celebration for our good friend and legal counsel Les MacDonald. Les has represented Xyólheméylh for over 25 years. We are so grateful for all Les has done for Xyólheméylh, and his wise advice over the years. We will miss Les, while wishing him all the best in the next phase of his life.

On April 27 we held the first in-person staff appreciation event in three years.  The event was held at the Sumas Longhouse and we recognized over 80 staff who reached 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 & 35 years of service milestones in the last three years. We were excited to be able to gather for these types of large events again, and so grateful to our staff for their amazing dedication and commitment.

Speaking of gatherings, we are looking forward to hosting more events over the summer months. We will be offering Lacrosse for youth 6 to 16 in July and August; the Visions and Voices Soccerpalooza tournament in August; and we will be holding our Setting the Table events twice a month in July and August. Please stay tuned for details on how to register and attend the events by following us on Facebook or checking out our website.

On a sad note, we said goodbye to two of our Elders in the past few months. It was with heavy hearts we said goodbye to Mary Malloway in February and Gil Poitras just this past week. Our prayers go out to their families and friends. We will miss them very much but are grateful they were in our lives and that they were able to help so many of our children and families. 

Kyla Darby and Rod Spitzig

Meet a Caregiver jennifer hodgson


Jennifer Hodgson has been caring for children for over 28 years and estimates that she’s had approximately 60 children and youth in her care over those years, many of them long term. She also has two of her own children who are now grown, and three grandchildren.

Currently she has four children in her care – a seven-year-old, two 12 years olds and a 15-year-old. She also has a young man through the Chilliwack Society of Community Living who has been with her for 22 years, who is now 27 years old.

Jennifer’s partner and her son are a big support in her ability to do this work.

“Growing up I knew someone who was in foster care and I remember him telling me stories. I just wanted to have a home that kids weren’t running away from and have a place where they could go to bed safe and wake up safe,” says Jennifer. She also had a friend who was fostering children who suggested that she try it.

“I just feel good knowing these kids are safe. Recently I’ve had a lot of 12-year-old girls – they become great friends, I want them to be able to look back at being in foster care and appreciate the long-term friendships they made and have good memories,” says Jennifer.

Jennifer understands the plan is that the majority of the kids eventually go home to their families, although she has had a few that have aged out in her care. She had one girl in her care who was with her for eight years before being returned to her family recently, and many of the kids stay in touch with her.

Jennifer believes that it’s very important for the Indigenous children in care to be connected to their culture. “Some of them aren’t interested, but many of them want to learn,” says Jennifer.

Jennifer and other caregivers make a huge difference, offering safe and loving homes. We lift our hands to Jennifer and all the Xyólheméylh caregivers. If you are interested in becoming a caregiver we have info sessions the 2nd Wednesday of the month at 6:30 pm and the third Tuesday of the month at noon. Contact Norma Commodore at [email protected] to register. 

New feature: Si:yólexwe teachings                                  
 Meet an elder: allan mason
FVACFSS Spring Newsletter – 2023

Allan is a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation from Waglisla, BC where he was raised learning about his culture, and learning about plant medicine from his mother.  “Smudging was a ritual that was introduced to me at a very young age to protect and prevent spirits from latching on to us children,” says Allan. That connection to his culture came to an abrupt end when he was 13 years old was sent to Port Alberni Residential School.

He was determined to attend University and worked hard to be accepted into the University of British Columbia where he acquired a BA in Sociology, a BSW in Policy and Programs and a Masters in Social work in Community Development. It wasn’t until he graduated and went to Ottawa that he was exposed to Indigenous spirituality again.

He was the Head of the Native Offender Program with Correctional Services Canada and was instrumental in drafting the first Directive to allow Aboriginal Inmates in all federal institutions in Canada to use traditional methods and materials.

“It was during this process that my spiritual journey began in 1985,” says Allan. He eventually went on to be a PhD candidate at the University of Victoria, with an interest in studying Aboriginal Governance from the perspective of Indigenous teachings where traditional laws are entrenched in the oral teachings and Indigenous languages.

“I am spiritually inclined and a strong supporter of traditional ceremonies and rituals,” says Allan. He participated in sweat lodge ceremonies, pipe ceremonies and talking circles. In 2003 he completed a four-year Sundancer ceremony with Dave Blacksmith in Winnipeg, Manitoba. “My most rewarding experience was as a helper for Dave when he performed his healing ceremony on individuals infected by cancer, which spanned over four years,” says Allan.

Allan is married to Shirley who is of Gitxsan ancestry and they have three children, one who is adopted from the Cree Nation in Saddle Lake, Alberta. He likes being an Elder because he enjoys the process of ensuring the best care and safety of children and families. His advice for staff is to be empathetic and understanding to the needs of the Indigenous child, youth and family. He also believes that culture is crucial. “Having a sense of abandonment and not belonging is a terrible burden to have to bear, so knowing who you are and where you are from is very important,” says Allan.

“I approach my role with an open heart and open mind and share my love and caring with everyone that is involved with every phase of the child welfare process,” says Allan.

Medicine Teachings with the Elders: Stinging Nettle


Stinging Nettle is a truly impressive plant that can be used for everything from boosting your immune system to helping with depression to keeping your hair shiny and smooth. Abundant in the Pacific Northwest, stinging nettle is harvested in the late spring and a staple for Indigenous households.

Rich in vitamins A, complex B, potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron, stinging nettle can be added to a diet in the same way spinach is used. Julie George, one of Xyólheméylh’s respected Elders, grew up with stinging nettle and explains its uses. “My grandmother would pick it from the roots, boil it or fry it in butter. She would also grind it up and add it to scones or soup,” says Julie, who has continued the tradition. She also makes tea with it which she steeps for 24 hours to extract the nutrients, as well as smoothies.

Julie explains that in addition to being a great nutrient, it can also stimulate brain chemistry and bring balance to the mind. Traditionally, Indigenous people believed it could help women with fertility and that if you hit yourself with the leaves it could stimulate blood flow.

In addition to the nutritional value, it also has topical qualities and can be used as a hair conditioner or for healing skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema.

- Julie George, Xyólheméylh Elder

a cedar bough cleansing song

In this video Rupert Richardson plays a cedar bough cleansing song. Rupert is from the Guskimukw, Nuxalk, and Chippewa First Nations. He is a PhD candidate at UBC and has worked in the field of education for 15 years. His research and community engagement centres around intergenerational healing, decolonization and post-secondary education.

staff spotlight: Xyólheméylh staff present at u.s.  conference


Pictured above: Teressa Gallis, Terri Brunelle and Stacia Jones

Xyólheméylh staff were invited to present at the 41st Annual Protecting Our Children Conference in Reno, Nevada from April 2 to 5. Each year, the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) hosts the largest national gathering on American Indigenous child advocacy issues. Over 1,900 people attend the three-day conference which has become the premiere event addressing Indigenous child welfare and well-being. This year’s theme was Healing Our Spirits: Nurturing and Restoring Hope.

Xyólheméylh was chosen to present among hundreds of applicants. The Xyólheméylh team who presented included Stacia Jones, Terri Brunelle and Teressa Gallis . They presented on the Family Cultural Connections Workers and Elders programs and the  Collaborative Practice model.

“The feedback we received was really positive. Lots of agencies have shown interest in hearing more about what we are doing at Xyólheméylh,” said Stacia Jones.

They were also able to learn about best practices from all over the US and even Australia. “We have plans on how to bring some of this great work here at Xyólheméylh,” said Stacia.  

Recipe: shepherd's pie
FVACFSS Spring Newsletter – 2023

The following recipe is from Métis Elder Chris Kelly and Youth Mentor Brittany Stegenga and was one of the recipes that was used in the Youth Cooking program.

Prep: 45 min

Cook: 45min

Makes: 8 Servings



  • 1 ½ lbs of Potatoes
  • ¼ cup Milk
  • 4 tbsp unsalted Butter
  • Salt & Pepper

Meat Filling:

  • 2 Tbsp Canola Oil
  • 1 Cup Chopped onion
  • 2 Carrots peeled and diced
  • 2 Cloves of garlic or Garlic seasoning
  • 1 ½ lbs Ground Meat (Beef, Bison, Elk, Rabbit)
  • 1 tsp salt & ½ tsp pepper
  • 1 Cup of beef broth
  • 2 tsp chopped/dried rosemary leaves
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 2 Tbsp Flour
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • ½ cup frozen corn


  1. Preheat oven to 400F
  2. Peel and cut the potatoes into ½ inch dice. Place in medium pot and cover with water. Set over high heat, cover and bring to boil. Once boiling, uncover, decrease heat to maintain a simmer and cook until tender. Approx 10-15mins. Drain potatoes and return to pot. Mash the potatoes and add butter, milk, salt and pepper and continue to mash until smooth.
  3. Prepare the filling. Place canola oil into a sauté pan and set over medium high heat. Once the oil is hot add the onion, carrots and sauté til turning colour. Add meat, garlic, salt and pepper and cook until browned and cooked through. Sprinkle the meat with flour and cook another minute. Add broth, rosemary, thyme and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer slowly 10-12 mins or until sauce is thickened slightly
  4. Add the corn and peas to the meat mixture and spread evenly into a 11x7 inch glass baking dish or similar. Top with mashed potatoes. Bake in oven for 30 minutes until potatoes begin to brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 15 mins before serving.

*Recipe can be simplified by using instant potatoes and can be adjusted based on available meats and veggies!


Visions and voices 


It was a busy winter for the Visions and Voices youth advisory group and they are looking forward to an eventful spring and summer. The group organized an exciting new program, facilitated by Elders, to share teachings about ribbon skirts with Indigenous youth. The program has proven to be very popular with a second cohort participating in the spring. In the spirit of generosity and humility, the participants made two skirts each – one for themselves and one to give away. As Elder Julie George has said, the process of making the skirts is as important as the end result. “It is a process of healing yourself. It’s intuitive and creative, but also gives you strength,” said Julie.

Another program that was offered and is continuing into the spring is a Kitchen Teachings for youth ages 13 to 19. The youth learn about nutrition, budgeting, kitchen skills and how to make a meal economically and stretch it out so they have leftovers. The kids decide amongst themselves what dishes they want to learn and chose pasta, sushi and pizzas.

During spring break, Visions and Voices held a Kids Night for kids ages five to 12 at Play Abby in Abbotsford. Sixty-six kids participated in an Easter egg hunt and laser tag with lots of prizes handed out.

Visions and Voices has also been busy remodeling two spaces – one in our Abbotsford office so that we can offer youth programming and cooking classes; and another at the Youth Hub in Chilliwack, creating a drop in space for youth where they can do homework, play games, do their laundry, access resources and be able to talk  to Elders.

Upcoming programs include a beading program at the end of April, a BBQ in Chilliwack for BC Children and Youth in Care Week during the first week of June, building a sweat lodge at the end of April at Soowahlie First Nations, supporting Setting the Table events in the summer, and starting a lacrosse team which will play in August. They are also organizing their annual Soccerpalooza in August and the annual forum which is an overnight retreat from November 17 to 19. Stay tuned for details on all these events by checking our website or following us on Facebook.

XyólhemÉylh's cultural gathering

On Saturday, March 18 approximately 100 people came together to celebrate our annual Cultural Gathering. The event was held at The’i:tseliya, S.A.Y. Health and Community Centre in Chilliwack and included a sacred spirit boards ritual called Sqwedilech by Saylesh; a performance by Tsatsu Stalqayu (Coastal Wolf Pack) which is a multigenerational Coast Salish family group. They were followed by the Wild River Drum Group. The gathering ended with a performance by Notorious Cree.

national Indigenous peoples day art contest


We're looking forward to seeing your artwork!

Here is a brief list of some of the activities that are happening for National Indigenous Peoples Day: 

June 17 - APTN Indigenous Day Live (IDL) Broadcast across Turtle Island, 8 pm PT. Concert hosted by Samian and Jessica Matten, featuring a lineup of artists including: The Halluci Nation, Laura Niquay, Mumu Fresh, Aysanabe and many more. 

June 21 - Burnaby, 12 noon to 5 pm, Burnaby Edmonds Park and Plaza 

June 21, Surrey, 3 to 8 pm, Bill Reid Millenium Amphitheatre

June 21, Agassiz, 10 am to 2 pm, traditional games, activities and ceremonies



Upcoming Events This Summer



We are offering Lacrosse training and organizing a tournament this summer. Equipment will be free, ages 6 to 16. The dates are: 

Mornings 9 to 11 am. July 20, July 27, August 3, and August 10. 


Visions and Voices will be leading a soccer tournament on August 5 from 9:30 am to 3 pm. Prizes, BBQ lunch, water games and more!

Setting the Table 

Setting the Table is also returning this summer. This year it will be two afternoons a month in July and August, alternating between Chilliwack and Abbotsford. 

We will be providing more information and registration information later this Spring. Follow us on Facebook or our website for more details.