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NIC Indigenous students learn about Māori at New Zealand field school

Students trip to the other side of the earth turned into chance to discover more about themselves and their culture

For a group of Indigenous students from North Island College, a trip to the other side of the earth turned into a chance to discover more about themselves and their culture.

The 10 students took part in a New Zealand field school, Journeying Together Te Ao HuriHuri, along with faculty members Sara Child and Ian Caplette from May 3 to 18.

“We go over there and we’re learning about other people, but at the same time we’re learning about who we are,” Child said.

They were joined by a group of five Indigenous students and an instructor from Nova Scotia Community College.

The field school for NIC students includes two 100-level courses: an Indigenous Leadership course called “Vision, Values, Philosophies and Ethics” and a Kwak’wala immersion course. As part of the field school project, they put together presentations about the experience and completed final assignments that align with the Calls to Reconciliation and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

The field school program has been described as a transformation journey that delves into the “rich tapestry” of the culture of New Zealand, or Aotearoa, as it is known to the Māori. At the same time, the visitors from NIC and NSCC celebrated shared Indigeneity with the Māori people, while preparing the students to be ambassadors of reconciliation and speak in their own languages. It was a chance for them all to share their similarities and experiences, whether they were from Vancouver Island, Mi'kmaq from Nova Scotia or Māori from New Zealand.

“It was a tough trip, but it was a worthwhile trip and an educational trip,” said NIC student Jackie Jack. “It gave me hope. It gave me inspiration — more of the strength to fight the fight that we need to fight.”

The group spent much of the time in the Waikato region, including the University of Waikato. They also visited the largest city of Auckland, which even included a couple of radio and TV interviews about their trip, but it was really the interaction with the Māori hosts that provided the most important moments for the students.

“They were also punished for speaking their language … I just assumed we were the only ones who had the language and culture beaten out of us … the Māori were just the same,” said student Steve Clair. “I think I came back a little bit different.”

One of the most inspirational opportunities in New Zealand came from seeing Māori children in childcare centres speaking in their own language, as the centres use only the Indigenous language. During a recent debriefing about the trip, the students talked about the need for the same programs to be available for Indigenous children in Canada.

For student Grace Johnson, visiting the daycare was the most powerful part of the experience, and she expressed hope that children here can have the same opportunities the Māori children have. “Our kids need to experience this younger,” she said. “Their whole education system is in Māori, and they’re playing together and speaking Māori. I’ve never seen our youth completely play in Kwakʼwala.”

Others talked about how the experience is pushing them to learn more about their own language and culture, search for their traditional name or inspire their younger siblings. Rejean Child — Sara’s son — led the group in singing, which started as a challenge but one that helped him to grow, with him singing on his own at first but with more joining in as time went on.

NIC has held similar Indigenous field schools, including the first one to Hawaii in 2022. Funding for the New Zealand trip came from the Global Skills Opportunity, the Government of Canada’s Outbound Student Mobility Pilot Program targeting students who traditionally have not engaged in outbound mobility to travel and learn abroad.

However, there is at present no future funding for the short-term study abroad programs similar to the ones in New Zealand and Hawaii. During the debriefing, the students underscored the importance of a program like this and the need for it to continue — to give others the same chance they had.

“It invigorated me. It gave me more strength,” Johnson said. “It needs to continue. It’s just powerful, and I think it would be a tragedy if this program didn’t continue.”

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