The expression on Terrie Davidson's face is one of pain as she recalls the terrible memory of the time she got a phone call about her son, a firefighter with BC Wildfire Service. With a Kleenex clutched in her hand, she raises it to dab her eyes, before continuing her story.
In 2011, her son, Justin Campbell, was severely injured when a tree fell on him while fighting a forest fire in Stave Lake, Alberta. With broken ribs, a fractured femur, and an eight-inch rod inserted into his spine, he lay in hospital for months, recovering.
Those memories came flooding back to Terrie earlier this year when her nephew, Dylan Campbell, who also works as a firefighter, called her on the phone to tell her about a recurring dream he was having. In his dream a tree was falling and each time it was going to hit him, at the last moment, his cousin pushed him out of the way.
“He said, 'Auntie, I have to tell you about a dream I had.' He knew that he can reach out to me because I have the belief in our traditional ways," recalls Terrie. “And so he asked me for some guidance."
Fighting wildfires is an important job, but one that carries inherent danger. Aside from the fire itself, smoke, poor visibility and weakened trees falling over are threats to safety.
In July, Terrie learned about the death of 19-year-old firefighter Devyn Gale. She died after becoming trapped beneath a tree that fell on her while clearing brush near a fire in a remote area outside Revelstoke.
The news devastated the tight-knit community of the BC Wildfire Service. For Terrie, she knew it was a mother's worst nightmare.
A health director with Boothroyd Band in the Fraser Canyon, Terrie reached out to Grand Chief Willie Charlie of Sts'ailes First Nation to talk about organizing a ceremony to honour and send prayers to all the firefighters in British Columbia reeling from the news.
Grand Chief Willie supported Terrie's idea and agreed to pull together Fraser Salish representatives from the First Nation Health Directors Association (FNHDA), the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) and the First Nation Health Council (FNHC). The meeting included George Campbell from the BC Wildfire Service to discuss how best to honour the firefighters. The FNHA's Central Health Emergency Management team agreed to cover the costs of the event.
Hundreds gathered for the event at Chawathil First Nation, just outside of Hope, on July 20.
“Doing this work as a mother and an aunt and lifting spirits of so many people, I just think it's important when they're out there protecting our lands and resources, our infrastructure, saving lives. This was just one of the most-needed ceremonies that I've ever participated in."
The evening began with a Territorial welcome from Chawathil First Nation Elder Pat John, followed by dinner and an honouring ceremony. The firefighters were covered with a blanket and headband and led into the gym by drummers and singers from Sts'ailes First Nation and Chawathil First Nation. The traditional ceremony was altered slightly to allow the tired firefighters to return to their seats to hear teachings about the ceremony, messages from the speakers, and to honour three fallen firefighters, Devyn Gale, Adam Yeadon and Ryan Gould. To finish the evening off, the Fraser Salish team gifted each firefighter with a medicine pouch.
The FNHA Interior Region sent two staff to witness and offer help wherever needed. They were tasked to bring the blankets directly to the families of the fallen firefighters.
Another ceremony is scheduled to be held at Wilfred Community Centre (Kahmoose 4) on Nov. 17. A light breakfast will be served at 8:30 a.m., with the ceremony to start at 9:30. A lunch will follow the ceremony.
Watch the video here: