On the 27th of April I had the privilege of travelling across the Pacific Ocean to participate and present at the Indigenous Thought Conference at Blue Quills University located near St. Paul in Alberta, Canada.
The most memorable experience was spending time with the First Nation people from the Cree and Dene Nations in Treaty 6 Territory and visiting their reserves. We visited Eagle View High School at Onion Lake Reserve where we performed waiata and haka for the students, and they shared their songs, dances and drum ceremonies with us.
I didn’t expect to see the ‘situation’ some of these students were in was very similar to some indigenous students back home. I was talking to some of them and found that drugs and alcohol were very popular among their age (15-17 years), finances are a big problem with their families, and that a
lot of them lacked support and confidence from their parents at home. This made me realise that indigenous students all around the world are facing the same problems.
It seemed to me that their strengths were how they embraced their culture in their school, their learning of Cree language, cultural traditional classes and activities like bow and arrow practice, banic baking (a traditional bread), duck skinning and playing lacrosse, which was invented by the First Nation people of Canada. This is similar to here in New Zealand where as Māori students we are able to express and practice our culture through things like kapahaka, Manu Kōrero, baking our traditional rewana bread and participating in our traditional sport Ki O Rahi.
Life for the First Nations people on the reservations looked pretty rough. There isn’t any clean tap water, roads are unsealed, animals rummaged through
rubbish that was spread everywhere and it looked very undeveloped. In other parts of the reservation, however, it was very different. I experienced how many First Nation people lived by staying at my Uncle Kevin Lewis’ house.
Life on the reserve farm included: feeding over 40 dogs every day, moving kennels and dogs to new locations, hunting for food (no shops were nearby), protecting your dogs from wolves and bears, and collecting water from the birch tree (that is where they get the majority of their drinking water from). I found it fun and the people were happy to live like that and they enjoyed being at one with nature. We ate food that I never imagined I would taste, like moose, bison, fish tongues, elk, wild berries and wild duck.
We participated in traditional ceremonies that were enchanting, one example was the sweat ceremony. The owner of the sweat lodge, Bill, gifted me my first Creemade caribou hide drum after surviving my first traditional sweat ceremony. I will never forget that amazing experience.
It was an honour representing Christchurch Boys’ High School and travelling with Te Whānau Tahi on this trip of a lifetime.
I will never forget the Cree and Dene First Nations people who made us feel so welcome, the experiences that I had, and the people that made it possible
for us to travel: Rangitane Ki Wairau, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, The University of Canterbury, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Whanau Tahi, Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Kuia and The Blue Quills University. E kore emimiti te puna o mihi ki a koutou katoa.
Brigham Riwai-Couch is a Year 12 student at Christchurch Boys High School. He is a descendant of Tupuna #7 Hori Makitanara