by Matt Hern
In 2002 after a decade of Teen Trips, Mark and I started a Youth Exchange Program between East Vancouver and Fort Good Hope (Radeli Ko) in the Northwest Territories. We’re trying to make them annual affairs and our next one is in July 2010.
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 in an era where they are bombarded with Just-Say-No-To-Racism messages. That tolerance is about as far as it tends to go through, 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 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.