Australia-Canada Indigenous youth exchange makes connections through shared cultural experiences
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When 21-year-old Wirangu man Isaiah Coleman was asked if he'd swap Ceduna for Canada, he said "yes" but thought it was a joke. 
A week later he was told to get his passport ready, and that's when it hit that he was really going overseas.
A cultural exchange between an Indigenous youth group in Canada and First Nations Australians has given young people like Mr Coleman the opportunity to learn more about another culture.
For Mr Coleman, it meant immersing himself with local tribes for five weeks and trying traditional food such as moose and beaver.
"The more I learnt, the more it spoke to me," he said.
"After a while, I was really along for the ride. Anything they were doing I'd volunteer myself to do."
The Wirangu man said he felt connected with nature hiking and canoeing in "beautiful landscapes".
But what he felt most connected to was the people even though they came from a different cultural group.
"I really felt a connection to them. I had long conversations with people for hours and hours on end," Mr Coleman said.
And now he's come back home with a renewed perspective encouraging him to become more culturally involved with his own mob.
"I went to Canada will full confidence, and I came back and thought, 'Oh, I don't do that at home,'" Mr Coleman said.
"It has got me to appreciate the land a lot more and it's given me an appreciation for my own culture and to ask more questions because the elders in our community aren't going to be there forever."
Adnyamathanha woman Jayde Warren, from Port Lincoln, said this was the first time an opportunity like this had been given to First Nations people living on the Eyre Peninsula.
The youth worker at West Coast Youth and Community Support in Gallinyalla (Port Lincoln) attended as a mentor alongside Mr Coleman and another young adult from Ceduna.
She said she learnt about the stark similarities between First Nations history in Canada and Australia.
"The similarities that we both share and the intergenerational trauma that they have as well — it was a big eye-opener," Ms Warren said.
"We've had Stolen Generations. They've got the Sixties Scoop. We've had missions and they've had residential schools.
"To hear it firsthand was just mind-blowing."
Ms Warren said it was difficult to relive the stories of the First Nations people in Canada.
"Some of the places have lost languages like we have here," she said.
"Spending time with some of the Indigenous people and seeing how they cope with traumas was really hard.
"We went to one of the old residential schools. That was quite a heavy day. I could still feel the terrible things that happened.
"It was really hard to actually comprehend that people can actually do this, and it is real."
In Canada, more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation children were taken from their families and communities to attend schools far away from their homes.
Many never returned.
While similarities of haunting pasts connected the two groups, so was the way in which both cultures have persevered and continued traditions.
One traditional event Ms Warren described as "amazing" was the powwow — a North American Indian ceremony that involves feasting, singing, and dancing.
"When you attend the powwow, you can actually feel it in your body," Ms Warren said.
"Everyone was dressed in their traditional clothing, right from babies up to elders, and being so proud of who they are and where they come from.
"Seeing the next generation who were a part of the program in Canada, seeing them become the next leaders in their community and support the youth, was amazing to see."
For director of Indige-Sphere Sheila Wahsquonaikezhik from Thunder Bay, Ontario, her trip to Australia this month was also a learning experience.
She led a youth group aged from 24 to 32, some of whom presented in Adelaide on gaming at the World Indigenous Peoples Conference.
"We work with our youth who are relatives of survivors of residential schools; the equivalent would be mission schools here," Ms Wahsquonaikezhik said.
"So those young people who are here also have experienced the child welfare system.
"We're trying to understand the meaning of gaming in their lives with things like attachments, connectivity."
Ms Wahsquonaikezhik said in their research they found that their youth enjoyed gaming to feel connected.
"In some ways, gaming can jeopardise things like jobs, high school, and can even disconnect them from families," she said.
However, Ms Wahsquonaikezhik said that the art of gaming was an escape for many from the group.
"Another party has done research into the more empirical, factual data, as opposed to the heartfelt data, which is what the youth wanted people to listen to as opposed to statistics and numbers,'" she said.
Outside Adelaide, the youth group camped on country in the Flinders Ranges, visited Indigenous rock paintings, and hunted kangaroo.
One member had the opportunity to visit Port Lincoln's sea country and learn to surf.
But the most important part of the exchange, Ms Wahsquonaikezhik said, was the conversations between the groups.
"Now we ask; what's the next step? What's the natural progression of keeping the spirit of learning alive, culturally, politically, socially, familiarly?"
Ms Wahsquonaikezhik described the trip as a rite of passage.
"They're inspired now to learn the language, to learn things that they hadn't learned before, they didn't have those rites of passage," she said.
We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn, and work.
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AEST = Australian Eastern Standard Time which is 10 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)


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