In 2002 after a decade of Teen Trips, Mark, Selena and I started a Youth Exchange Program between East Vancouver and Fort Good Hope (Radeli Ko) in the Northwest Territories. They are more or less annual affairs, meaning the next one is as soon as we can get the (considerable) cash together.
The exchanges are pretty standard in some ways: two weeks in each community, youth partnered up and staying in each others’ houses, participating in various cultural and community events etc. In many other ways however, this is a different kind of thing, in part because it is tough to imagine two communities within Canada being more different: one a diverse urban neighbourhood (East Van) the other an isolated Dene community of 550 people on the Arctic Circle, 750 miles northwest of Yellowknife, right on the Mackenzie River.
The exchanges are also organized explicitly with the goal of getting native and non-native kids together. We have long noticed, especially in a diverse neighbourhood like ours, that kids are largely tolerant of one another, but that tolerance is about as far as it tends to go. To our minds that’s seriously inadequate and native kids especially tend to live in different worlds from non-native youth.
The central goal of this project is to move past simple tolerance and towards some kind of hospitality and comprehension of each other’s home lives and communities. We’ve had some great times so far and it really is a crazy and awesome project for all of us. On pretty much a moment’s notice I’ll talk about it excessively and in detail. There really are a lot of stories.