Six Nations host students’ exploration of Health Studies, Culture and Reconciliation

For 19 Native and non-Native students from across Southern Ontario, this Spring break will not be a typical week of resting and reading, and they will not find themselves on a beach or sleeping in. They will be participants in an educational trip hosted by the Six Nations of Grand River, Feb 20-24th. The 5-day educational trip through Six Nations territory south of Brantford will explore the social determinants of health as well as the rich cultural heritage of the peoples living in this vibrant community. This trip is one of ten exchanges that will be organized across Canada this year by the Canadian Roots Exchange, which aims to bridge the gap in education and understanding between First Nations, Metis, Inuit, and Non-Aboriginal youth.

“It’s about showing youth what’s right about our communities and demonstrating the strengths of Aboriginal perspectives,” says Canadian Roots Exchange Co-founder Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux. “Educating this generation of young people to work together to build a better, fairer country is critical for our shared future.”This knowledge exchange is a formal partnership between the Health Studies Students Union of the University of Toronto and the Canadian Roots Exchange. To prepare for their trip, the students started a four-week orientation in Aboriginal culture, governance and history in mid-January 2012.

The trip will kick off February 20th, with learning session on tradition healing with Gayle Whitlow at Ancestral Voices and then an afternoon with revered traditional teacher Jan Longboat at the Earth Healing Lodge. The following 4 days will be equally full of cultural and healing sessions. These include a visit to the infamous “mush hole” residential school with teaching from a survivor of the residential school, sessions with addictions counselors Pete Summers and Eleanor Joseph, a morning spent with the owner of a cigarette factory and a visit to the birthing center. The group will also be holding a special evening learning session on Historic Trauma open to the community with the Peace Building Initiative, which looks to the wisdom of the people to restore peace amongst families, institutions, governance and leadership. This event will start Thursday, February 23rd, at 6pm at the Old Six Nations Council house on Fourth Line in the village of Ohsweken with refreshments, followed by speakers and an open discussion.

Beyond education, the ultimate goal of the trip is to gain a better sense of our roots as Native and non-Native Canadians. As McMaster student Michael Laughten puts it, “For me it represents a critical next step in my journey of understanding Canada’s colonial history and moving towards more ethical and just relationships.” Alanna Brown, Health Studies student at the University of Toronto states, “I believe this program could change the way that many students view health in general as well as the policies and practices that are utilized. This will allow a broader understanding of what constitutes medicine, social ideology and policy.” “Knowledge about Aboriginal heritage is a very important asset for me in understanding myself and my ancestors”, states Tamara Pokrupa-Nahanni of Liidlii Kue First Nation currently at Ryerson University.

“As Canadians,” CRE Program Director Ronan MacParland states, “it is about time we accept the challenges that face us, build bridges of understanding, and celebrate the extraordinary story we all share.”

It is with that hope that these students keep trucking, quite literally, towards a better Canada.

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About the Canadian Roots Exchange

Built on the hope that we can build a generation of leaders that will redefine and strengthen the
relationships between Canada’s peoples, the Canadian Roots Exchange (CRE) is a national process that believes that ‘exchanges unite us’, as fellow Canadians, through exchanges of knowledge and intercultural understanding between youth. Founded in 2008 by Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, David Berkal and Ronan MacParland, this is a youth-led initiative that targets Canadians between the ages of 18-30, and we are now expanding our reach to High School age youth. The Canadian Roots Exchange project brings Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth together on one, two or three-week journeys, with the goal of having exchanges and field courses in Aboriginal communities in every province and territory across Canada. Each exchange and the CRE project itself is coordinated and led by young people in partnership with adult cultural and community resources and aims to bridge the knowledge divide through a multi- faceted experiential educational model, as well as to bridge the cultural divide through a dialogical approach to interpersonal sharing sessions. This year Canadian Roots Exchange is running programs in Nova Scotia, North West Territories, British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta.

For more information or interview requests, please contact

Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, Director & Co-founder
Telephone: (905) 252-5441
Email: cynthia.wesley[at]

Celina Nahanni, Team Leader
Telephone: (613) 329-3720
Email: celina.nahanni[at]

Ronan MacParland, Program Director & Co-founder

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