Nothing brings people together better than sharing culture, and of course, sharing food.
Students from Ecole Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife travelled to Vancouver Island to participate in a cultural exchange with students from Ladysmith Secondary School and Chemainus Secondary School.
Chemainus Secondary teacher Susan Baker organized the exchange with her former colleague Shellie Trimble, who moved to Yellowknife to teach at Ecole Sir John Franklin in 2014. The exchange was sponsored by Experiences Canada, a nationally registered charity that helps students explore Canada. Experiences Canada paid for the travel cost that enabled the students to participate.
“I wanted people from down here who had never been up north to experience it, because it’s completely different geographically. The winters are long and very cold, nothing like down here. And I wanted my kids from up there to see a tree they couldn’t wrap their arms around,” Trimble said.
Students from Ladysmith and Chemainus travelled to Yellowknife back in February to take part in cultural activities with a focus on Indigenous cultures.
“Up there we did amazing, wonderful things,” Baker said. “We saw ice roads, built our own drums, and learned a little bit of the language.”
On Vancouver Island activities were focused on Coast Salish traditions. Students were treated to a day on Transfer Beach that included a feast of salmon, oysters, and clams, prepared by teachers, parents, and volunteers from the community. Before the meal, Billy and Mandy Seymour from Stz’uminus First Nation shared songs and a prayer to bless the meal.
Students also experienced the process of traditional wool weaving that included sorting the wool and washing it.
“The whole reason we’re doing this kind of work is so that when folks come they give teachings to us from their own families and their own tradition,” Ladysmith Secondary teacher William Taylor said.
John Marston, an artist from Stz’uminus First Nation led the initiative for students to get out on the water and canoe around Transfer Beach. Marston worked at Ladysmith Secondary once a week over the course of a year carving a traditional canoe to teach students the art of wood carving. The canoe was first launched three years ago at Kin Beach in Chemainus. The canoe is now used as an outdoor classroom for the North Cowichan School District.
“Today is great, because this is exactly what the canoe is meant to do. It was meant for cultural days like this,” Marston said. “I think it’s extremely important for our youth to come together and for us to explain to them about our proper protocol, and how we sit down and have a meal together. That’s so important for us to pay respect for the people that put the food out for them and made the effort to create a cultural day for them.”
The Ladysmith Maritime Society volunteered a guide boat to ensure that the students were canoeing safely. Marston expressed gratitude to the society for allowing the event to take place. His brother, Luke Marston, took students out in a 45 foot long canoe named “Moon Beam”, and led them through the process of paddling.
After the canoeing finished, the students went to Marston’s Ladysmith art studio, then walked to the Waterfront Gallery where they received cultural teachings and stories.
Although the exchange is now complete, the organizers say they look forward to planning more cultural days and similar events in the future.
“I want to do this every year just to do it, just to create the opportunity for kids,” Marston said.