How an Indigenous resort in Canada is healing old wounds

Remember when vacations in Canada were a carefree, G-lark rated vacation? An all-good-all-good escape to a nicer, softer place, where people dress like us, sound like us (more or less, eh?), but are not us?

Welcome to the upside-down year of 2022, where otherwise reticent Canada is currently embroiled in a scandal spanning more than a century of racist and deadly child abuse, culminating in a reckoning in the form of lawsuits, protests, redress and calls for its National Day to be lifted .

In other words, it’s its best impression of America.

Even the Pope had to jump into the mix Earlier this month by finally apologizing (and you know how much the Holy See loves to do so) for the Catholic Church’s tremendous role in the murderous and cringe-pleasingly euphemistic “dormitory” system that perpetrated a “cultural genocide” against Canada’s Indigenous people from the 1880s to the mid-1990s.

But to heal the deep societal wounds and associated pain, apologetic Canada still manages to keep it uncompromisingly old-school Canada for residents and visitors alike — spiritually, recreationally, 24-hour wine at least in a small, largely indigenous region in southern interior British Columbia.

A delegation of indigenous people meets with the Pope.
Long overdue: The pope received a delegation of Canadian indigenous people at the Vatican earlier this month before apologizing to them for atrocities in dormitories that took place under the supervision of the church.
© Vatican Media/IPA via ZUMA Press

Brittany “Britt” Bakken, half native of Secwepemc (Shuswap, in English), half of Norwegian blood, is a 28-year-old cultural interpreter and healing guide at the Quaout Lodge & Spa at Talking Rock Golf Resort in Chase, about 260 miles northeast of Vancouver by car.

Britt’s broad knowledge of history, spirituality, ethnobotany, and particularly linguistics, is as bold and well-rounded as her nose ring—think Ferdinand de Saussure with a dash of Riot Grrrl. You could say that Il Papa’s mea culpa left her a bit to be desired. “For me, an apology alone is of no use. There are still reservations about dirty, untreated drinking water…brown mud that kids play in,” she says. “Do something about it or postpone it. An apology without action is just manipulation.”

Hailing from nearby Kamloops, the accomplished Spitfire joins our group of aspiring soul seekers on a healing journey through the densely wooded land of the 70-room lodge on the shores of Little Shuswap Lake. We’re talking 20 acres of prime, pristine Squilax territory.

Side by side at an incense ceremony.
Smoke Show: A smoking ceremony is guaranteed to cure whatever ails you and, as a bonus, will leave you smelling fresh of sage all day.
Quaout Lodge at Talking Rock Resort

We start early in the morning under a sky-blue sky with a 15-minute complimentary wipe ceremony, or what Britt calls a spirit bath. She lights a bundle of sage in an abalone shell, then either she or the guests wave the smoking wand around the body parts most in need of cleansing. The hair seems to be our group’s favorite as it best captures the scent of the herbs and promises olfactory bliss throughout the day. All four elements are represented in the stain – abalone from the water; Sage from the earth and air to oxygenate the flame of the sage. The number four is kind of a big deal in the Shuswap belief.

We then leisurely strolled through the Endor-like forests surrounding the lodge – a metropolis of giant cedars, firs and junipers covering the ground with their cones.

We stumble across a group of, yes, four fir trees, one not like the others. His scabrous body was struck by lightning years ago, but he still lives to tell the tale.

An aerial view of the grounds of Quaaout Lodge.
A Coastal Thing: The indigenously owned lodge sits on 20 acres of wooded Squilax territory on the lake.
Quaout Lodge at Talking Rock Resort

That’s all I’ll say about “the healing tree,” lest I spoil all the many tales of miracles he and his scathing goodness have passed down since that Gordon “Gordo” Tomma will delight you with. As smart as he is witty, Gordo is a half-Irish guy, Shuswap knowledge keeper and cultural interpreter who often accompanies Britt.

“He’s excellent at telling me when I’m wrong,” she jokes.

Gordo promises that all of his Healing Tree stories will begin the same way, but never end that way.

We emerge from the forest onto the shores of icy Little Shuswap Lake, with the magnificent Monashee Mountains as a backdrop. A short walk down the beach we come across a mysterious structure with red metal doors.

A cultural guide touches the needles of a tree.
Cone Zone: Root, root, root for the native trees – Quaaout Lodge has conifers galore.
Quaout Lodge & Spa at Talking Rock Golf Resort

“It’s a sweat lodge that can be used free of charge,” explains Britt. “The lava rocks make it scorching hot in there, so don’t wear jewelry. I would have to take my nose ring out.”

While owned by the same local band, the steam shack is private and not part of Quaaout and is currently padlocked (possibly due to bad weather, possibly due to some nasty people). In other words, it’s officially closed to John Q. Public like us. (But if you happen to know a guy who knows a guy who knows a chief, you might just slip past the proverbial velvet rope someday.)

The culmination of our walk to serenity is a stop at the lodge’s kekuli, a traditional semi-subterranean earthen hut with a hearth fireplace designed to encourage storytelling, concern sharing, prayer or just meditation among guests.

Guests at Quaaout's Kekuli.
Tribal Council: What is said in the kekuli stays in the kekuli, so consider it a safe, sacred space.
Quaout Lodge & Spa at Talking Rock Golf Resort

After Britt heard of the first 215 children’s graves discovered outside a boarding school almost a year ago (since that number has risen into the thousands), Britt visited the Kekuli four days in a row, praying and sharing her thoughts with the deceased.

“I let them know they weren’t forgotten and offered the flame food to enjoy on the other side,” recalls Britt, who is also a mother of two “kids” and a linguistics assistant at a local daycare .

When we return to the lodge, Britt gives us a small bag of sage and bids us farewell. After a little après-detox at the lodge’s restaurant and bar – led by local chef Chris Whittaker, it partners with local suppliers, farms and wineries (try Recline Ridge’s Riesling-like Kerner) – the day of healing is not quite over yet.

A man undergoing treatment at Quaaout's Spa.
Seventh Heaven: Quaaout’s Le7Ke Spa does more than just help its guests live up to its “I am good” name.
Quaout Lodge at Talking Rock Resort

Enter the five treatment room Le7ke Spa. First of all, this is fully justified as an authentic Indigenous experience that goes beyond the First Nations-inspired decor and design. His name, Le7ke, means “I’m good” (“good” if you’re a grammar snob) in Secwepemctsín, and this “7” is neither a hallucination nor a stylized “V” like in the movie “Se7en,” It isn’t the actual number either – it’s just the best mouth-and-throat pictograph a Qwerty keyboard can conjure up to indicate a glottal stop, which is fairly common in the incredibly alphanumeric language. But my nerd self wanders off.

In difficult and heartbreaking times like these – and not just for Canada’s indigenous people but for all of its people – spiritual pit stops like Quaaout Lodges and its passionate crew of cultural guides are essential. However, if you visit Quaaout’s website, an auto-playing promotional video on the homepage shows an entirely different cultural experience: wearing sunglasses, tossing beers, peeling hot dogs, brothers, golf clubs slung, one stand-up paddleboard under the other, and hit the sandy beach of the lake with their dog.

Each of us grieves in our own way.

Prices at Quaaout Lodge start at $175; The daily 15-minute sweeping ceremony is complimentary for guests at 9:30 a.m., seats are limited; The 75-minute Walk the Land Tour costs $32/person; The 75-minute Kekuli storytelling experience costs $36. The author was a guest of the hotel. How an Indigenous resort in Canada is healing old wounds


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