‘They’ll lead the way: ’PA Grand Council twins with BC group for culture exchange

Youth and group leaders from the Prince Albert Grand Council and Nisga’a nation pose for a group during the trip to Treaty 6 territory. -- Shane Bird/Submitted

The Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) is taking part in a culture exchange with an Indigenous group from British Columbia.

This week, youth from the Nisga’a nation are learning about the Indigenous culture in Treaty 6 territory.

Shane Bird, healing on the land coordinator with the PAGC, said they’re going to Batoche to learn about the Metis resistance, Fort Carlton to learn about the fur trade, and Onion Lake to attend a pow wow.

They’re also doing traditional practices, such as medicine picking and drum teachings.

“It’s very important to show our young people it doesn’t matter where you come from, your religion or what you believe in. We’re all human beings,” said Bird.

“They are our future. They’re going to be our change makers, the game makers, to be able to break that cycle of intergenerational trauma. They’ll lead the way.”

The two groups have received funding from the YMCA’s Youth Exchages Canada Program to visit each other’s territories. In August, 28 people from PAGC communities will be travelling to Nisga’a territory in northern BC.

Nisga’a’s land is located on the northwest coast, about two hours from Terrace.

Charlene Tait, youth engagement coordinator with the Nisga’a Lisims Government, said they have about 8,000 citizens. They’re spread between four communities in their territory and urban locations in Vancouver, Terrace and Prince Rupert.

“For many of our Indigenous youth, especially in the north, they don’t have a lot of opportunities to travel, so one of the purposes behind this trip was to get the youth out of their comfort zone and to put them in situations where they can grow,” she said.

Tait explained how Indigenous culture on the northwest coast differs from central and eastern Canada.

For example, the Nisga’a have different regalia. Rather than ribbon skirts – which Tait has been wearing on her visit – women wear red dresses and men wear tunics. Older adults and elders wear button blankets, which are ceremonial robes.

“We wanted the youth to be able to experience both,” she said.

Tait said the exchange is also important for the youth to carry on Nisga’a culture. This includes the dwindling Sm’algyax language, she said.

“Just meeting each other, I knew everyone was going to be shy and reserved and still in their comfort zones, but I’m starting to see now even in just this one day that bonds are forming.”

Randi Mowatt said she’s been slow to open up to other youth from the PAGC, but she’s breaking out of her shell in an effort to learn about other cultures.

“Growing up, I always heard the quotes ‘create new memories’ and ‘you only live once,’” said Mowatt, who’s 16 years old.

“I want to go out and explore.”

Raelynn Whitehead, a 17-year-old from Red Earth Cree Nation, said she’s looking forward to visiting Nisga’a territory.

“This is a first experience for me and I’m starting to enjoy this trip. I’ve made friends with a couple of them, they seem very nice, and I can’t wait to learn their culture when we go over there,” she said.

The PAGC held a welcoming feast for visitors from Nisga’a on Monday at the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre. Bird said the feast was important to show their “kinship value” for one another and to pray that good things are ahead for the trip.