Eileen Delehanty Pearkes named cultural ambassador

Pearkes was awarded the annual title at an event Monday night.

Eileen Delehanty Pearkes thanked a crowd Monday evening for recognizing her writing and work focused on the cultural history of the Columbia Basin.

Eileen Delehanty Pearkes’s passion for the Columbia River has carried her like a current for decades.

Now she’s being recognized not only for what she’s achieved but also for what she’s yet to accomplish.

Pearkes was named Nelson’s cultural ambassador for 2017 at the annual reception of council on Monday night. The event at the Prestige Lakeside Resort put a spotlight on civic contributions from individuals and organizations, and shined brightest on Pearkes.

She said she never thought to be thanked for her work in such a way.

“I was really humbled, actually,” said Pearkes.

“Quite surprised and honoured really because I’ve spent more than two decades here just working away and trying to make contributions and serve the community with my message and do good and help other writers, support the arts community, and you just don’t ever think about the fact you are being recognized for that effort.

“So I think it was very honouring and humbling.”

The award, which city council started handing out in 2009, recognizes cultural achievement with each year focusing on a different art form.

It comes with a $1,000 honorarium, and the expectation that the winner will show off Nelson’s culture outside the Kootenays.

That part of the job is something Pearkes, who won for literary achievement, is already wading into.

Pearkes was born in the United States and moved to Canada in 1985. She’s written six books, including A River Captured: The Columbia River Treaty and Catastrophic Change that was published this fall about the ecological consequences of that treaty on First Nations and the surrounding landscape.

She is also the author of The Geography of Memory: Recovering Stories of a Landscape’s First People, a history of the Sinixt people.

When she received news of the award, Pearkes was researching rainforests in the Pacific Northwest thanks to a grant from the Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance. Visual artist Ian Johnston, who was the 2016 cultural ambassador, picked Pearkes up from Spokane and drove her to Monday’s event.

Pearkes said the two spoke about what can be achieved with the title, and called it a springboard for her work.

“I’m actually expanding my message even as the honour was given to me and I think that’s just fuelling my tank to continue to expand who I am out into the world and the message that I carry, which is my love for the landscape the people who live here,” she said.

That message will have a new audience in 2017. Pearkes will promote A River Captured in the United States as well as on the Lower Mainland.

She’ll also be working on a project related to the Columbia River with Emily Carr University.

“It’s so important to be down there talking about the rural areas and the kind of challenges that we face as the major hydro electric producers for the province and the losses that we have experienced,” said Pearkes.

“A lot of urban individuals don’t really understand what we bear in terms of cost. To me it’s just really important to be out there with that message.”

Several other awards were handed out Monday evening.

Friends of Kootenay Lake program manager Avery Deboer-Smith was given an individual sustainability leadership award for her work as a water smart ambassador.

Deboer-Smith wasn’t present — she’s currently at a water conference in South Africa — but her sister Hannah accepted the award on her behalf.

“Everyone loves calling her the water girl,” Hannah joked.

Sustainability awards were also given to the Osprey Community Foundation and the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce, and the Chamber also won the heritage award for its work in restoring the CP Rail Station.

Certificates of appreciation for long service were handed out to Nelson Public Library board members Dianne Harke and Donna Macdonald, who have each volunteered for eight years at the library.

The city also recognized Maureen and Len Crawford, and Willa and Harold Horsfall, for their work in lighting up Baker Street for the holidays.

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