George Longe would be proud of a memorial park featuring a playground the Lhtako Dene First Nation built in his memory.
The small community located just outside of Quesnel held a grand opening for the park under sunny skies on Wednesday, Aug. 5.
Hundreds of dragonflies which are believed to represent the spirits of loves ones lost could be seen flying while an eagle soared high above.
Lhtako Dene Chief Clifford Lebrun said it was fitting to name the park after his late brother who loved children.
“He sometimes couldn’t remember their names so he just called them sweetie —all of them,” he said. “He wasn’t just my brother; he was my best friend and I really miss him.”
National native alcohol and drug abuse program (NNADAP) worker Jim Edgar helped hold a smudging ceremony for the park before his son Thomas Terry of Lillooet further blessed the grounds with a bear dance while community members drummed and sang.
Youth dressed in traditional regalia danced as community members played on a drum purchased by Lhtako Dene for their youth and held singing lessons last year every Tuesday and Thursday night.
“It’s an absolute honour to be here to bless the grounds for the children, for our future generations because we are at the time of big changes, and a lot of things are going wrong,” Terry said.
“Blessing the grounds like this gives blessings to our children and our children’s children.”
Helping cut a red ribbon that was tied to the large wooden archway with five bears created by carver Dean Ross of Pioneer Log Homes was Connelly Longe who proudly held Longe’s young granddaughter Alayna.
Lhoosk’uz Dene Nation Chief Lillian Squinas told the crowd she had wondered how many bears she would see on the drive up for the ceremony because Longe protected the bears that were often around his trailer.
“It’s not a surprise to me to see the George Longe Memorial Park and then you have the emblem of the five bears,” Squinas said of the park’s wooden entrance way.
“Bears are a really strong significance to the Carrier people. The bears are our protectors and that is why we respect the bears, so it’s really awesome to see the way it’s been set up.”
Longe’s death in 2018 devastated the tight-knit community.
Noting the hurt suicide causes, Squinas reminded people to be cognizant of mental illness that exists within communities including their own.
“We truly loved him dearly,” she said of Longe whom she is related to through her niece. “Mental illness can be hidden. We probably don’t recognize some of the signs and I ask the parents to make yourselves aware of some of the signs and symptoms and to really watch over your children.”
Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes said like the eagle that could be seen soaring above the playground, Longe is looking down and is very happy.
“Today does feel like a strong healing,” Oakes said.