As part of our Youth Leading Reconciliation program, eleven youth and five staff members from Boys and Girls Clubs across Canada visited the Saddle Lake Cree Nation reserve in Alberta for a cross-cultural exchange.
The Youth Leading Reconciliation (YLR) program was born out of Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada’s partnership with the 4Rs youth movement, a youth-led initiative that seeks to connect Indigenous and non-Indigenous young people in Canada. The 4Rs stand for respect, reciprocity, reconciliation, and relevance.
Through the program, Clubs develop initiatives that build the confidence and leadership capacities of Indigenous youth, and encourage non-Indigenous youth to appreciate and understand our shared history and culture, and contemporary issues.
Hosted by Saddle Lake Boys and Girls Club, the YLR youth exchange was an opportunity for young people from different backgrounds to immerse themselves in the Saddle Lake Cree Nation’s culture and traditions.
Participants joined a variety of educational sessions, learned traditional Indigenous dances and Cree songs, participated in a smudging ceremony, and took part in a traditional feast. They also toured Blue Quills First Nations College, which is a former residential school, accompanied by an Elder and residential school survivor.
“It was an amazing experience,” says Gabby, a member of Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Vancouver Island. “I took away that you will never truly know the story of how Indigenous peoples were mistreated in this country unless you hear stories directly from those who suffered and survived the mistreatment.”
Charolette, also from the Central Vancouver Island Club, agrees. “I met so many wonderful people. I felt welcome from the start of this youth exchange, which allowed me to be open about my feelings and the things that were troubling me.”
As the weekend came to a close, the youth were already planning ways to bring their experience back to their Clubs and communities.
For Rachel, a Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada board member, Club alumni, and former member of BGCC’s National Youth Council, a poem that started the first evening’s activities set the tone for the youth exchange. The last line read: “Take the time to walk a mile in his moccasins.”
“To me, this was the theme of the weekend,” says Rachel. “This experience brought me much closer to understanding Indigenous peoples, the struggles they face, and the hope they see for the future.”
“Thanks to important opportunities like this one, many youth will experience what it is like to walk in someone else’s moccasins.”