On Friday September 19th, four Chilean Indigenous Mapuche youth arrived at Toronto, Ontario along with Pedro Valenzuela and Maria Hueichaqueo, their respected community leaders and chaperones of the first annual International Indigenous Youth Exchange Program. The program is inspired by and is an offshoot of the International Indigenous RPL Collective. From Toronto, the group traveled to Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory where they met at the home of one of the exchange coordinators, Heather Green, to debrief on the exciting adventure and week ahead. From there they were united with their Mohawk home stay families and exchange counterparts and departed to their new homes for the next week.
On the first day of the program, the group spent time getting to know their home stay families, bonding, and also sharing stories and songs over a bon fire and s’mores in the evening. The second day of the program included a traditional Longhouse ceremony with a welcome from Mohawk community leaders and families along with reciprocal gift giving, feasting, singing and dancing all afternoon. The second day included a visit to Queen’s University at Kingston, Ontario to visit the Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre with Director and Mohawk community leader Jan Hill. At the Centre the group sat together in a circle and talked and exchanged personal stories and answered questions about their lives and their communities via the help of an international student and translator. It was a time to really get to know each other and to share with the help of the translator. Pedro and Maria also had an opportunity to learn and share with Jan Hill about the various programs offered to Aboriginal and Indigenous students. Together they learned, they shared things in common and even offer some of the same or similar services to their community members. They also took time to do drumming and dancing together and had a tour of the Centre and campus. After leaving the university, the group left for Ganonoque, Ontario to the beautiful 1,000 Islands of the St. Lawrence River where they took a boat cruise together with their home stay families. The fourth day of the program included a tour of the Mohawk Language Institute, Tsi Tyonnheht Onkwawenna Language and Cultural Centre, with Director Callie Hill and her team. At the institute they visited programs ranging from the early years language nest up to the adult language programs. The group participated in a language class and had the opportunity to exchange ideas and ask questions about respective languages and the program in general. The fifth day of the program the group toured the Tyendinaga Territory by bus which was sponsored by the Mohawk Band Office. The tour included local offices, facilities, community service programs, driving by the sacred grounds and airport, along with a stop at the Mohawk Well-Being Center which ended with a visit with the Mohawk Elders at their Diners Club and included a short Mapuche drumming ceremony for them. The sixth day of the program included a visit to Mohawk exchange counterparts high school, Moira Secondary School in Belleville, Ontario, where the youth met with Aboriginal guidance counselors Matt Sager and Kristin Bird who facilitated a tour of the school including a drop-in to a Mohawk language class and to a park afterwards. In the afternoon of the sixth day, the group traveled back to the Tyendinaga territory to participate in an Indigenous session on teachings of the Peacemaker, the Peacemakers Journey, with Anataras/Alan Brant which also included a short Mohawk closing prayer. The last evening of the program was spent together with home stay families bonding, swimming, playing games and eating. On the seventh and final morning the group met at one of the homestay families’ homes for breakfast and good-byes. It was a heartfelt morning for all with many photos taken and mementos, such as signed flags, exchanged along with many tears and fond memories of the week behind them. The group departed Tyendinaga Territory and headed to Toronto to meet with the Chilean consulate regarding support for the program. The group later toured Toronto and headed to Niagara Falls before flying out Monday September 29th, 2014. The next phases of the program includes committee meeting planning for fundraising and building community awareness of the program to prepare for Mohawk youth to travel to Chile to complete the exchange sometime in February of 2015.