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Camas advocacy group asks Castlegar to rethink playground

Ahead of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a new advocacy group is asking Castlegar city council to reconsider building a playground on a camas field.

Love to the Roots has penned an open letter, questioning plans for what will be billed as Canada’s tallest castle play structure.

“This development is targeted for an area of Millennium Park remarkable for its irreplaceable biodiversity,” they wrote.

The city says no final decision has been made on the location and that camas is a consideration. They say they are consulting Indigenous people as well as other groups and park users and also conducting an archaeological assessment.

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On the same day the playground design was unveiled in June, city council heard from two park users who asked that they consider an alternate location that would not affect camas that grows there. The rare lily has cultural and heritage importance to the Sinixt people, to whom it was a sacred root food.

Local educator and activist Andrea Mann says while that meeting was “not unfriendly,” they are disappointed it didn’t result in further dialogue. They were told to provide their views as part of the city’s forthcoming official community plan review.

Mann says while they will do that, she is concerned about a lack of understanding by decision-makers about the significance of the camas field: “We have this amazing plant that loves to grow here. Why aren’t we protecting it?”

(A camas conservation area was designated within the park in 2015. In its tentative location, the playground would fall outside that area, but still where camas is found.)

Mann also says the selection of a castle-themed structure “looks like such a gesture of domination of the landscape.”

“I think it’s going to be ridiculed in short order as a decision made at a time when we’re building knowledge and trying to do better and yet not arriving at consensus. Let’s not make a mistake.”

Mann says the matter may become an election issue, at least among children. When a candidate forum is held at Twin Rivers Elementary, she expects it to be one of two key topics students bring forward, as they have learned about camas in recent years.

She says since the playground is meant for the enjoyment of children, their perspectives should be considered in deciding where it goes. Furthermore, she says many young people are further ahead than adults in learning about and responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

“Those children are advocates and stewards of the land. They can look quite far into the future, so let’s listen to them.”

Although the city is hoping to complete the playground next year, construction is still a ways off with a long lead time to procure the materials. A report on that process is expected before council on Monday.

You can read the full letter here.

Love to the Roots held an inaugural celebration of the camas fields at Millennium Park in Castlegar on June 27. (Photo submitted)
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