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Youth return from trip of a lifetime 

The youth on a bus tour in Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands. Courtesy Kahnawake Youth Center

For many of the youth on Kahnawake Youth Center’s (KYC) trip to the South Pacific this month, flying on a plane was a brand-new experience. 

“We did eight plane rides in two weeks, and two of them were over 10 hours,” said Tyson Kyer, who has just returned from the two-week trip to Australia, New Zealand, and the Cook Islands. “For my first time on a plane, it’s a lot!” 

Though travel sickness and battling jet lag was a challenge, Kyer said it was all worth it to explore the other side of the world and experience the culture of those who live there.  

“It really is a once in a lifetime opportunity, for us to be able to see it at this age, super early on, was super fun and super cool,” he said. “It was great seeing it at my age and it was even better being with all these people that I know too.”

The group had a cultural exchange with Māori while in New Zealand. Here, they are at a “wharenui,” which they learned is the Māori equivalent of the Longhouse. Courtesy Kahnawake Youth Center

A total of 17 youth between the ages of 12 and 18 were on the trip, with three chaperones from KYC. One of those chaperones was Kaitlyn Patterson, KYC’s recreation program animator, who said that the community should be proud of how the youth represented Kahnawake. 

“The youth got to tick so many things off their bucket list,” she said. “It was great being a chaperone and experiencing those moments with them. I loved seeing the smiles on their faces while they were enjoying themselves.” 

Patterson said one of the most meaningful experiences for the group was in New Zealand where they were welcomed into a “wharenui,” the Māori equivalent of a Longhouse. Being inside their gathering space and learning about their customs and languages was a moment of connection between the group of Kahnawa’kehró:non and their Māori hosts. 

“They share some of the same similarities with colonialism and assimilation as we do over here. We were introduced to our tour guide there who guided us through the entire day and gave us words in her language, and they had elders there who shared words with us too,” Patterson said.  

The group was then shown how to perform the haka, a ceremonial dance representing strength and unity. In return, girls from KYC sang to the Māori, before the two groups shared a traditional Māori feast, which had been entirely cooked underground in the rocks.  

“At that point, we were able to have those bigger conversations, talk about those differences and the similarities with our cultures and our histories. It was just an amazing day,” she said. “When we got back on the bus afterwards, we weren’t able to share any words because we were just all so awestruck.” 

The youth had fundraised for the trip over the past year, which made the experience particularly rewarding. Kyer’s mother, Kristina Glen, said that the community had continually shown up to support KYC’s fundraising initiatives, and the youth were grateful to know that Kahnawake was backing them in their efforts. 

“They proved themselves, and they all worked so, so hard,” she said. “All of the initiatives they did were also great to also learn that beginning experience of being in the workforce.” 

Glen said she’s thankful that KYC continues to grow and forge the path for youth to experience world travel. 

“I seriously hope that every single kid gets these kinds of experiences, because it’s something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,” she said. “It’s going across the world, seeing other peoples’ cultures. They’re very lucky kids.” 

Next year, KYC will be offering another once-in-a-lifetime experience for youth in the community, this time to Scandinavia. Patterson said KYC is excited to continue sharing the magic of travel with youth for years to come.  

“These are humbling experiences. We got to experience not just being in a different country with all of them for the first time, but for many of them being on a plane for the first time, or being out of North America, or for some of them it was the first time ever swimming in the ocean,” she said. “These are the kinds of opportunities they wouldn’t necessarily get to do otherwise. It’s special.” 

evedcable@gmail.com 

This article was originally published in print on March 15 in issue 33.11 of The Eastern Door.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.