Community clean-up
Cassidy Marchand, a member of the Okanagan Indian Band, started a community clean-up initiative as a student and it’s grown into an annual event. Photo by Kelsie Kilawna

Syilx woman turns class project into annual community clean-up: ‘Because we respect our land’

Cassidy Marchand's school project, inspired by her grandfather, has turned into an annual Community Clean-up — this year's set for April 17.

Cassidy Marchand is lining up industrial-sized garbage bags, recycling bags and hi-vis vests in preparation for the fourth annual Community Clean-Up, which will take place on April 17 in Syilx territory on the Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB).

Marchand, who is Syilx, Secwepemc and a member of OKIB, launched the annual clean-up in 2016 when she was a student at Okanagan College. In an Indigenous Studies class, she was asked to create a project that would contribute to her community. 

She says she immediately thought of her grandfather, Gordon Marchand, and the walks he would take around Head of the Lake Road in Inkumupulux (Head of the Okanagan Lake), cleaning up garbage and caring for the area as he went. 

After a few years of this, his ball team joined him, Marchand tells IndigiNews, and it became a collective community effort, so the story goes.

Marchand decided to carry on her grandfather’s tradition, inviting her classmates to join her in cleaning up garbage along Head of the Lake Road in the OKIB community. They grabbed their garbage bags and a truck and picked up “18 bags of garbage” from the area.

Since then, the community clean-up has become a significant part of how Marchand gives back to her home community, she says.

“I started this project when I got in Indigenous Studies and was told to do something for the land in volunteer work, so I tried this, and haven’t stopped,” she writes on the Facebook event page.

But this year holds new weight and meaning as Marchand says the project will unite people during the difficulty of the ongoing pandemic protocols.

“I thought this would be a good way to get community members together again during a pandemic,”  Marchand says, sitting at her kitchen table. 

This year’s clean-up will start at 12 p.m. on April 17 in various locations throughout the community of OKIB IR#1 (which includes 10,302 hectares, according to the OKIB website). 

Volunteers will be handing out industrial garbage and recycling bags, hi-vis vests, and water, says Marchand — and she welcomes other communities to take part.  

Community Support

When Marchand put the call out to the community for support this year, it was answered. 

Businesses, families and friends have come together to support the initiative. People have offered to donate water bottles, and others are starting clean-ups in their own areas of the community. 

Tupa’s Joint, an Indigenous cannabis dispensary in downtown Vernon, is giving a $500 donation, Marchand says.  

“And we have Westside Cannabis who’s donating, and then we have Wakenbake — they’re going to help us use their truck for bringing stuff to the dump, and they’re going to help with bags and gloves.”

Cory Brewer, a member of the OKIB and the owner of Tupa’s Joint, says he will always support these types of community initiatives when he can. 

“We donated to the community clean-up to help with safety equipment for those who are working to keep our community looking great,” he says, adding that it’s important to “keep everyone as safe as possible, while they work on creating a feeling of integrity for our beautiful lands.”

“We will continue to donate to causes that bring our community together in a proactive way.

We wish to thank Cassidy Marchand for her hard work and all those who participate to see this initiative succeed,” Brewer says. 

Deb Nicholas, an OKIB community member, is also donating to the clean-up, echoing the importance of showing up for these kinds of grassroots initiatives.

Nicholas has set up garbage cans at the local community parks in the same spirit as Marchand, saying this is also a way to “support our younger people who are working hard to make a difference for the betterment of our homelands.”

“We as a community need to help out where and however we can,” says Nicholas. “By donating two flats of water, I hope I am helping to keep the workers hydrated while they do a valuable community service.”

Garbage haul from the 2019 Okanagan Indian Band Community Clean-Up for the Head of the Lake Road. Photo submitted by Cassidy Marchand

Looking Ahead

Marchand says she hopes those who can’t make it to the clean-up, will still take part in any way they are able. For example, they could use the hashtag #OKIBlovestheland to spread the positive message. 

“Even if they can’t be part of it, they can still take part, even if it’s just doing something [like cleaning the roadside] outside of their own house,” says Marchand. 

Looking ahead, Marchand says she hopes the project continues to grow, and that maybe other communities will feel inspired to do the same. 

“I hope to see more community members join it and jump on it. Let’s keep our community clean, that way when people from outside of our community come here, they respect it, because we respect our land,” says Marchand.