If you ask Isabelle Bara what her aboriginal culture means to her, this is what she might say: “We are a helping people. We like to live off the land and we share.”
It’s only fitting then, that Bara gets to help people everyday through her work as an Elder with the local Conayt Friendship Society and that the word Conayt means “helping others” in the Thompson language.
Though she now passes these principles onto the younger generation as she goes berry picking with the youth or teaches young mothers how to cook, can or make jams, Bara first learned them from her own elders.
Growing up on a 160-acre ranch near Ashcroft, Bara learned to work hard and always finish the job she was given. There was always plenty to be done on the ranch, which was situated between Barnes Lake and Willard Lake and Bara remembers that her family used to grow their own hay to feed the cattle and horses as well as the pigs and chickens that they owned. Just as they are now, the children were taught how to live off the land.
“The kids went out with the hunters a lot and we picked berries and roots with our grandma,” she recalls.
From as early as 1968, several individuals recognized there was a need to establish a Friendship Centre in the Nicola Valley to serve a growing population of urban aboriginal people, and in the 70s, Bara got involved by volunteering on Bingo nights. Because her children were young, her time was limited but she served as a treasurer and continued to help with bingo as much as she could.
In the mid-80s Bara left town to work in the forestry industry, but when she got hurt in the 90s she returned to Merritt and to the Conayt Friendship Society and has continued to help ever since.
“The Conayt Friendship Society is a very good thing for the people and the community,” said Bara adding that she has many fond memories including attending grad ceremonies and camping with the youth.
In keeping with the philosophy of helping others, Bara says not to dwell too much on our own problems and to keep them in perspective.
“If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab our own back.”