Eleven aboriginal youths are prepping for a trip that will take them far beyond the familiar confines of the Harbour City.
Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre is taking the youths to New Zealand for a Paddling Beyond cultural exchange journey from Jan. 20-Feb. 1. They will spend time sharing their culture with the Maori – indigenous peoples in New Zealand – staying at an equivalent of a First Nations big house (marae) and will even have a chance to visit Hobbiton, where the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed.
The program sees travel as a way to develop leadership skills and connect with a different culture.
Tatiyana Billy said she is excited and the farthest she’s ever travelled is Calgary. She said she knows it’s going to be “fun” and “different.”
Billy said she is aware of Maori culture and dancing is a big thing, as well as rugby and singing. She will share the woman warrior song and is looking forward to sharing her culture and learning.
“We are learning a lot about our own culture (through the aboriginal centre’s Tsawalk Learning Centre) and learning how to dance and sing and our language a little bit more and we’re digging deeper into our culture than we ever thought we would do,” said Billy. “When we go there, we’re going to learn their language and what they do, what their songs are about and how they dance, the story background.”
While there have been donations from the community, Chris Beaton, Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre executive director, said the youths have contributed to the trip as well.
“We’ve gotten a great deal of support from community and from local businesses, but the youth themselves, have been involved in almost every fundraiser that we’ve done,” said Beaton.
Money still needs to be raised and the centre will host a movie night at Avalon Cinema with a screening of Indian Horse, a story about a First Nations hockey player who deals with racism and surviving residential school. The fundraiser goes Jan. 16 with doors opening 6:15 p.m. Tickets can be purchased for $20 through the centre. Please call 250-585-0947.
A Gofundme site has also been set up; to donate, go to www.gofundme.com and search Paddling Beyond Nanaimo.
When it comes to free time, Billy hopes to see the beach, as it will be summer in New Zealand.
“I am going to pack a lot of shorts,” said Billy with a laugh.