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Using her voice in a good, grateful way

Coleen Pierre plays a leadership role in Katzie First Nations band in Pitt Meadows. - Monisha Martins/THE NEWS
Coleen Pierre plays a leadership role in Katzie First Nations band in Pitt Meadows.
— image credit: Monisha Martins/THE NEWS

As the fog lifts off the Fraser River and the rising sun flickers through trees, you’ll find Coleen Pierre standing in repose on a dock near the Katzie First Nation, softly drumming.

It’s a place where she finds solace and strength.

“The water, along with the cedar, is significant to our people,” says Pierre, as a gentle summer rain patters on her woven cedar hat.

“It’s my comfort zone. I come here when things are too much or a little bit of stress is added to my life. I come down here, offer prayers and meditate.”

When people strolling along the paths in Pitt Meadows’ Osprey Village happen upon Pierre drumming, they often bow their heads in respect.

Pierre sometimes beckons them over, never hesitating to share the ancient songs she learned from her elders. Sometimes she sits on the banks of the Fraser, weaving strips of cedar into hats.

All around Pierre are landmarks that hold legends. In their mythology, the Katzie descend primarily from Oe’lecten and his people, who were created on the south shore of Pitt Lake, and Swaneset and his people, who were born on a rocky outcrop in the polder called Sheridan Hill. With the help of the Creator, Swanset shaped every river and slough in Katzie territory. “Katzie” derives from the Halkomelem word for a type of moss.

Pierre credits her mother Agnes Pierre for instilling a sense of pride in her and her seven siblings.

“She was the one who brought us up to understand, respect and abide by our culture and traditions,” says Pierre, who is now the go-to person for all kinds of traditional First Nations ceremonies.

She passes on those traditions through song as a founding member of a drumming circle called Heartbeat of the Rez.

For Pierre, sharing her culture with the wider world is a way to keep her mother’s spirit alive.

“She always told to speak up and let it be known. We have a voice, use it in a good and grateful way,” says Pierre.

“If you get the message across to one person, you’ve succeeded.”

Being a proud Katzie also means taking charge and caring for her community. It’s why Pierre organized the Reclaiming Our Community march last summer to take back the reserve from the addicts and criminals who had overrun it. It’s why she focuses on the positive.

“I want my children to be grow up and be proud of being Katzie,” says Pierre, who remembers growing up in a community that was much closer than it is these days.

“We were all one family, it didn’t matter what your surname was,” Pierre adds.

“You have to continue on with that generation to generation.”

She admits at first she was apprehensive about speaking up, a little afraid to lead but then she remembered the words of a wise elder.

“Anytime you have something in your heart, you speak up. If you don’t, it’s going to be a burden on your shoulders.”

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