Youth Exchange 2013: Webequie

Exchange Trip 2013

Dear Board of Directors,

As some of you may know, the OICC Youth Steering Committee had hosted a group of 27 grade 8’s from a First Nation community called Webequie from May 11th-18th. You may not know that we recently came back from a weeklong trip to their community on June 8th. The exchange was to get kids from a remote First Nation reserve to experience what it means to be an urban Inuk, and for urban Inuit to experience what it means to live in an isolated community.

Hosting the group was quite the experience for our youth, because we got to see what culture shock looks like for people who do not come from a community that has a large population of people. The first couple of days of us hosting the Webequie students proved a little difficult as many of them could not speak or answer any questions that we asked them. One of the Chaperones told me of one student being so shy that she asked if the Chaperone could order the pop that she wanted. The student had never seen so many people prior to coming to Ottawa. It was the first time that we had ever interacted with each other, and so it took the majority of the week for both groups to become comfortable with each other.

We had many activities the week that we hosted them, including a Queen Mary Street clean up, a trip to the Museum of Civilization, potato and cabbage planting at an Ottawa Food bank farm, a tour of Parliament Hill, and also a night at the movies. On the Thursday they left Ottawa at 5:00am to drive to Canada’s Wonderland! I heard stories of some of the Webequie kids thinking that they were going to die because of the height of the Rollercoaster! Needless to say, both the Ottawa team and
Webequie team were very tired by the end of that week!

Our visit and experience was just as good! We left to Webequie First Nation on Saturday, June 1st. It was an early morning that almost proved short lived for one of youth! In the final moments before we checked-in as a team, one of our attendees realized that he had left his I.D at home on the coffee table prior to leaving home! With no shortage of luck and a taxi chit, his Mother rushed home and grabbed his health card with no time to spare!

We arrived with a few moments of airplane turbulence, and were greeted by the youth that we met only weeks before. It was good to see their faces and to hear shy whispers! The thing that I first noticed was that there were only three types of trees in the surrounding area. Fred had told me the trees’ names, but I cannot remember what they were. We all climbed into 2 small buses, and took short drive to our hotel. The hotel that we stayed in was attached to a Northern! It was very comforting for the Inuit who had seen a Northern before coming to Webequie. The prices of the food items would show to be very similar to Arctic costs.

Our hosts had planned many things for us as well. The mornings were spent at the school making different crafts. I spent all week making one dream catcher, where most of our youth made a couple dream catchers and some other small crafts to give as gifts. The afternoons were mostly spent out in the “bush” as the Webequie students would call it. With the aid and assistance of the Rangers, we learned how to build a temporary shelter when lost, how to find North, how to build a smoke signal with no tools, and even how to use different plants for different ailments. One of the last evenings that had a scheduled program, we were given the opportunity to participate in a Sweat Lodge ceremony. There was a highly respected Medicine Man from Northern Alberta that lead ceremony, and all of our Youth listened to the teachings that he brought. Fortunately, four people participated in the ceremony! I was one of them and I found it to be a very special, and unique experience. We spent a lot of time in the bush and surrounding islands, gaining knowledge and experiences that we would never have learned in a city. We all enjoyed the bush!
The Friday night was a night where the community members gathered to honor and celebrate our visit to their reserve. On this evening, we were asked to share Inuit culture! Fred, Mikka, and myself had thought that we could have Colleen and Trudy do some throat singing, and also have some of our boys showcase Inuit games. The girls did a fantastic job, and the boys inspired some of the community members to come and try our games! One of the young males landed on his bum in attempts to jump as high as William Komaksuititsak did in the High Kick! To finish the evening, the Chief and Band Council presented us all with a gift! It was Moose-Hyde moccasins and a coffee cup with the Reserve symbol on it. It was quite the evening.

I think that this exchange is one that we all will cherish and reflect very fondly upon. I know that each group experienced something that we wouldn’t have experienced in our current living environments. The Ottawa team experienced what life is like in a small and isolated community, and the Webequie team experienced what Urban Inuit life is like. We traded and shared each other’s cultures, and did so in a fun and honoring manner. There were many laughs, and, even some tears from new friends saying ‘good-bye’! I am very happy that this trip happened. I think that it gives us all a better appreciation on culture, and makes us better Inuit as a result.
Thank you!

Steven Carleton