Cedar roses is just one way Lucy Heffernan is incorporating Nisga’a culture into her upcoming wedding.

Heart of our city: Lucy Heffernan embraces Nisga’a culture

There is no questioning Lucy Heffernan's connection to her culture.

There is no questioning Lucy Heffernan’s connection to her culture. It’s a connection that is both a sense of pride and inspiration for the young Rupertite.

Born and raised in Prince Rupert, Lucy is a member of the Raven Clan.

“I have roots in Kincolith on my grandmother’s side and my dad’s from Newfoundland,” she said.

Lucy spent a great deal of her childhood on the water, spending most of her time with her large family.

“My dad’s a gillnetter so my sisters and cousins and I would always be out on the boat, watching sunsets, making up languages and doing really cool things growing up on the coast. I guess I haven’t realized how lucky I was,” she said.

“Growing up on the boat was definitely an experience of a lifetime”

Throughout high school, Lucy spent a lot of her free time exploring the outdoors with friends and creating art, although she doesn’t consider herself to be an artist.

But still, a year before she graduated in 2008, Lucy was one of the summer students to help North Coast artists Russell Mather and Mitchell Soulfeather bring the Fraser Street mural to life.

“When you’re a teenager you lose sight (of your culture), for sure … but when we worked on the mural with Russell Mather we worked on First Nations art, which gave me a whole new appreciation for it. But I still wasn’t connected,” Lucy said, adding she didn’t even know what house she was from at the time.

That’s far from the case today, with Lucy being unable to imagine living a life that didn’t involve the Nisga’a culture.

Lucy says the Friendship House is the reason she has become so connected to her roots.

After working as the civic centre’s day camp leader when she was 18, Lucy took on the same role at the Friendship House.

“It was absolutely amazing and I really liked it. Then the opening for the Youth Hub came up that October,” she said.

Lucy said the Friendship House is the reason she is where she is today, with many of the staff members helping her in countless ways.

“There are so many people that are full of light and love there,” she said.

But it’s not only fellow staff members who’ve helped shaped Lucy.

“One of our youth was like ‘You’re Nisga’a, why don’t you Nisga’a dance?’. I told them I hadn’t done it since I was a little girl. But he stayed on my case, so eventually I join the Gitmaxmak’ay Dancers,” Lucy said, adding she became deeply reconnected to her culture because of it.

Lucy became part of the Friendship House’s Street Spirit team in 2009, a group that aims to assist 13 to 18 year olds have a healthy transition into adulthood, help them with their path in life, achieve goals and get in touch with their culture. Street Spirit provides recreational activities for young people to partake in like cedar weaving, making traditional foods, travelling, canoe journeys and more, as well as educational components on housing and employment and homework support.

“You have to build relationships with them before they’ll trust you to try the new experiences. And once they’ve done it and completed a goal, the light in their eyes brightens up. This is why we do it,” she said.

“The most rewarding part of my job is when someone says I’ve made a difference for them.”

But many of what Lucy considers to be her life’s highlights happened in 2011, including the first time Friendship House youth participated in the Gathering Strength Canoe Journey. The 10-day journey started in Kincolith with 10 youth and three adults paddling a canoe all the way to Hartley Bay.

“The Gathering Strength Canoe Journey was the first time 90 per cent of the youth had ever sang or danced, and when you’re there you have to. They learned so many songs and dances, and a lot of them joined the dance group after it happened,” Lucy said.

It was during this event that Lucy fell for her fiancé Dustin Woodman.

“We had went on one date, and [after I told him the Friendship House was] going on this canoe journey and our cook had quit he hopped right on,” Lucy said.

“He really pushed his comfort zone … he was amazing with the youth. He rocked it through the whole thing. I fell in love with him on that journey,” she said.

Then in October of 2011, Lucy was selected as a Unified Aboriginal Youth Collective (UAYC) representative for the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres’ Provincial Aboriginal Youth Council (PAYC), which she was part of for three years.

“We work really closely with the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. We do an annual Youth Shared Leadership and Action forum … and that was really cool,” Lucy said.

Lucy’s most recent achievement was her being promoted to Street Spirit coordinator.

“[I hope to instil in the youth] to stay in school and take every opportunity now rather than later, to be engaged and know that they do have a voice and can implement positive change for them and their families. And to get reconnected to their roots and culture,” she said.

Something Lucy has noticed over her years with the Friendship House is the need for social assistance in Prince Rupert. Because of this, Lucy enrolled in social work courses at Northwest Community College a number of years ago. Her job’s flexibility allowed her to earn an Associate of Arts in social work after two years, with Lucy now preparing to earn her Bachelor of Social Work through the University of Victoria’s Distance Program.

But in the mean time, Lucy is blissfully preparing for her wedding at the end of the month.

“I’ve been wearing my dress at night,” Lucy laughed.

Folks at the Friendship House helped to pull the finest bark to be woven into 172 cedar roses for the couple’s wedding, with the women in Lucy’s family teaming up to organize every aspect of the ceremony taking place at the North Pacific Cannery.

With just over a week until the pair tie the knot, Lucy cannot wait to begin the rest of her life with her soulmate.

“Dustin is so nurturing, really honest and has really good values. He’s such a sweetheart,” she said.