From May 18th to 24th, students and staff from the YMCA Academy shared in an amazing experience visiting Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick as part of the YMCA Youth Exchange Canada program. Many students felt that this trip was a highlight of their high school career and will always remember the fun and interesting activities they did and the wonderful people they met.
Our group met at the airport early Saturday morning, tired but excited for the adventure. After a short flight we arrived at the Fredericton airport and took a bus to Camp Wolostoq. We got a little lost on the way as Rein tried to direct the airport bus down an ATV trail, but we eventually made it, mostly in one piece! The camp was great, there was lots of open space and forested area. All of the cabins had been recently painted with artwork displaying animals that have a cultural significance. We were able to meet the artist who painted the cabins and she told us about why they are important to their culture.
The first night we had a chance to catch up with everyone who had visited us a month earlier in Toronto and also meet some of their friends and family. We settled into our cabins and had a campfire complete with hotdogs and s’mores.
The next day we visited Fredericton and went to the University of New Brunswick to learn about the history of Indigenous peoples through a pop up museum and also got to visit the Beaverton Art Gallery. We explored downtown Fredericton and then headed to Kingswood Entertainment Centre where we got to go bowling and play laser tag and arcade games.
The following day we hung out at the Wolostoq Education Initiative/Tobique Youth Centre and found out about the facilities available and activities they run. We had the option of going fiddlehead picking and were able to forage buckets full of the beloved young fern/vegetable, which we enjoyed for dinner a couple of days later. We also visited Hartland to walk across the longest covered bridge in the world!
The next day we toured the reserve and the local elementary school and helped out in a nearby community garden planting herbs and vegetables. Then many of us participated in a sweat lodge ceremony, which for some was a highlight of the week. The experience was 3 hours long, comprised of 5 themed sessions that allowed participants to share their thoughts and feelings, while in a hot, dark space in very close proximity to each other. It was a very special experience that we will treasure. After this it was a quick transition to Grand Falls for a chilly zip line across some spectacular waterfalls.
The next day we did many activities that taught us about the history and culture of Indigenous peoples. We chose from a variety of crafts, including basket-weaving, wood burning, rock painting, rattle making, and medicine bag making, and also had a chance to learn about the use of plants as medicine and go on a plant scavenger hunt. That evening there was a community potluck and drum and dance circle, which was a lot of fun.
Our last full day was spent at Camp Shiktehawk and we had perfect weather for all of the fun activities, including archery, human bowling, ropes courses and rock climbing. That night we had a friendly game of kickball, Toronto vs. Tobique, and then had many of Tobique youth come back to camp with us for the last night. In the morning we were certainly sad to see the week come to an end and to have to say good-bye to our friends, but we had such a great time and know that we will stay in touch and hopefully see them again soon.
Some words from our students:
“This exchange was one of the highlights of my high school experience and I would very much recommend it to other students.” -Seth
“It was a great trip, I wish it was longer!” -Peter
“I had the time of my life!” -Javier
Check out more photos from this event on our Facebook page!