Urban, Indigenous worldviews shared during student exchange program
- EFN Staff | June 16, 2019
A First Nations school opened their community and hearts to 21 youth from Ontario in a YMCA Youth Exchange Canada Program that promotes cross-cultural awareness and a sense of belonging.
It was a worthwhile experience for all the students and the coordinators involved.
“We want to encourage other First Nations to participate, it’s a great way to bridge two completely different worldviews and break down some barriers and create a respectful dialogue,” said Lydia Sunchild, who is a Grade 12 teacher and the YMCA group leader.
The Piyesiw Awasis School from Thunderchild First Nation welcomed their visitors from James Cardinal McGuigan school located in Toronto from April 28-May 4, 2019. This program is open to Canadian youth aged 12 to 17 and travel costs are funded by the Government of Canada through Exchanges Canada.
Asana Khudabaksh, one of the exchange students from Toronto, got involved in the YMCA Youth Travel Exchange through her brother in an Aboriginal Studies class.
“I was really interested in it so I decided to take it up,” said Khudabaksh. “I was excited to make friends and I was happy to fulfill that. I’m keeping in touch with them through social media. We got to exchange more than our cultures, values and beliefs, but also our experiences.”
The Thunderchild and the exchange students participated in a full week of events that created awareness about the culture, traditions and customs of the Indigenous community located 99 km north of North Battleford.
“We had a little bit of everything planned from Thunderchild worldview and tipi presentations, powwow demonstration, sweat ceremony, history and land-based demonstrations,” said Lydia Sunchild. “We went to the Chief Poundmaker museum and historic site. We also went to take them to a movie to socialize. [We] ended with a round dance.”
Sunchild said when the exchange students were leaving the night of the round dance back to Toronto, a lot of the kids were in tears crying for their newfound friends. This experience had changed so many lives that were involved including a grade 10 Thunderchild student who wants to attend university in Toronto knowing she has new friends that way.
“I learned to be open-minded,” said Wanda Smallchild, 15. “I plan to go to the University of Toronto and take law…this travel exchange is a great program. It builds friendships and character in people.”
Smallchild hopes to gain more friendships when they arrive in Toronto in a few weeks time for the Youth Travel Exchange.
“Smallchild’s goal wasn’t always Toronto but she will be there in two years and she will have friends out there,” said Sunchild.
The Thunderchild exchange students will be arriving to Toronto on May 19th for a week where they will get to experience the multi-cultures of Toronto.
“We will be [taking] them to the Air Canada centre and we will also be watching a Blue Jays game,” said Khudabaksh, who is excited to be the hosts for the YMCA Youth Travel Exchange.