‘We all respect each other more’: How a new youth program is fostering reconciliation through Indigenous land-based knowledge

A first-of-its-kind program is bringing students from across the country to Winnipeg to learn about Indigenous culture while promoting reconciliation and environmental sustainability to youth.

Noia McFetridge is one of 50 students participating in Honouring Indigenous Peoples’ new initiative.

The five-day program uses traditional Indigenous land-based knowledge to teach lessons ranging from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action to cooperating with others.

For McFetridge, who identifies as two-spirited, said it’s a chance to connect further with their culture—something they say has been difficult to do back home in B.C.

“For me, my nation resides in the United States, so I haven’t been to ceremony since before COVID,” said McFetridge. “This is the first ceremony I’ve been able to attend since then, so it was a really emotional experience for sure.”

While half of the students in the program are Indigenous, the other 25 are non-indigenous.

“I had a lot of respect going in, but ultimately seeing all the work that goes into the ceremonies and all of the amazing people that come together to make it happen, definitely yes, it heightened my respect,” said Cameron Ross, who was attending the program from Nova Scotia.

John Currie, the executive director of Honouring Indigenous Peoples, said this is the first time the program has taken students from across the country, with it previously running in smaller local groups of around ten students.

“A lot of people say the youth is the future,” said Currie. “We actually say the youth are the now, and so it’s important that their voice is heard today so that we can build the future they want to live in.”

“Through education, interaction, and practice, the program provides a deeper understanding of reconciliation for youth and nurtures strong leaders to drive change in their communities and beyond,” he added.

Students first landed in Winnipeg on March 25.

The group then spent much of their time at Turtle Lodge International Centre for Indigenous Education and Wellness in Sagkeeng First Nation, learning about traditional teachings like fire starting, emphasizing their responsibility to the land and each other.

They also talked to guest speakers at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, each stop giving the youth more impactful experiences to keep with them.

“If you don’t learn and understand history, it’s bound to happen again,” said Ethan Basil, a student from Ontario. “Reconciliation to me, I feel like is learning all about the past and making an effort to continue as a society.”

“We all reached an agreement which brought unity towards us all,” explained Derrick Monias, another student from Ontario. “We all respect each other more, and I really encourage diversity and unity between everyone.”

A lesson students will take home with them to their schools and families.

“I am very involved in my school, and I’m hoping to, like, make more of an impact at my school and support the indigenous workers there,” said Ross.

Honouring Indigenous Peoples said it wants to run the program again next year but in B.C. 

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