A truly Canadian cultural exchange

Submitted by Kirsten Gracequist – 

Ottawa United Church Presbytery Youth Ministry was excited to host a group of youth from the far north from May 21 to May 27. The group of twelve youth aged 13 and 17 and two teachers came from the Deninu School, located in the small remote First Nations community of Fort Resolution, Northwest Territories. The Deninu School is a K-12 school with approximately 94 students and is located on the south side of Great Slave Lake, approximately 160km north of Hay River, NT.

The Fort Resolution youth visited Ottawa in May as part of a cultural exchange organized in partnership with Experiences Canada (funded in part by the Department of Canadian Heritage) and the Ottawa United Church Presbytery, Youth and Young Adult Ministry.

Students from Fort Resolution visited Ottawa as part of a cultural exchange.

During the school break, nine youth and two adult leaders from Ottawa United Churches were guests in Fort Resolution. The visit there in March coincided with the community’s Spring Carnival, Heritage Fair and second annual Dene Games. The Deninu Kue First Nation provided the group with accommodation in wood-heated cabins at Mission Island for the week. Both groups spent the week participating in cultural activities such as dog sledding, drying meat, making crafts, and outdoor sports such as cross-country skiing and snowmobiling on Great Slave Lake. For both groups of kids, this was indeed a trip and experience of a lifetime.

While staying in Ottawa, the youth and their leaders called Kitchissippi United Church “home base” for the week. The group slept in the church and ate breakfast there before heading out to engage in activities all over the City of Ottawa.

Highlights of the week included touring Parliament and Rideau Hall, a picnic at the Mackenzie King Estate, a National Art Centre backstage tour, a boat tour on the Ottawa River, and a day at the Canadian Museum of History. Other outings included a swim at Carleton University Pool, workshops at the Wabano Centre, and dinner in the Byward Market. And, of course, there was shopping on Wellington Street, Bayshore Shopping Centre, and the Rideau Centre. The timing was excellent for them to see many of the sites downtown Ottawa that re being set up for Canada’s 150 Celebration this July. Aside from one or two rainy days, the weather was great for touring.

In preparation for this exchange, the UCC Youth Group, Deninu School, and Experiences Canada did their best to partner or “twin” youth from each group of similar ages and interests. This allowed the youth to share some one-on-one time while allowing them to explore each other’s different cultural backgrounds, history, and languages. Ottawa youth learned that their new friends from the Deninu School are part of the Dene First Nations, their primary language is English, and they are taught their mother language of Chipewyan by the elders and in school. A few youth from the Deninu School said they wished that they had more opportunity to learn French, as much of the touring in Ottawa was delivered in both English and French. They thought it was “very cool.”

Although Ottawa and Fort Resolution are over 4,800 km apart, it was clear the teenagers shared many similarities and some unique differences, due mostly to the remoteness of their community and the difference in population. Fort Resolution has fewer than 500 people.

What did the Ottawa youth find most surprising and favourable about their exchange to Fort Resolution? “We were most surprised about the vast and open space there was to navigate, and that Great Slave Lake is really huge,” said one participant. Almost all youth agreed that dog sledding and snowmobiling were the most fun. Others mentioned they enjoyed staying in the wood fire cabins, and the added challenge getting the right temperature at night: “It was either chilly or like a sauna!” Others loved the Aboriginal crafts, Dene games, and making bannock.

When asked, the Northern youth said their favourite part of their time in Ottawa was swimming in the Carleton University Pool. “The pool was huge and warm, and the diving boards were awesome,” said one youth. They also appreciated seeing the Parliament Buildings and the NAC “in real life,” places they’d normally only see on T.V or on the internet. A couple of the youth said they really hoped that Fort Resolution would get at least ONE fast food restaurant like KFC or Tim Hortons!

To be sure, on the last day, there were a lot of hugs, some tearful goodbyes, and hopes that the new friends stay in touch.

Kirsten Gracequist is the communications liaison for Kitchissippi United and the Ottawa Presbytery Youth Ministry.

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