Cadets from Naujaat, Nunavut and Port Alberni discovered their communities have something in common, during the first part of an exchange last week: both communities have aboriginal roots in whaling.
Port Alberni hosted a group of 29 people from Naujaat, Nunavut last week as part of an exchange program funded by Experiences Canada. A group of Inuit army cadets travelled from Nunavut to experience west coast culture, and a group of 24 sea and army cadets from Port Alberni will be visiting Naujaat in May as part of the reciprocal exchange.
The group visited Tseshaht First Nation on March 15 and were welcomed to the Tseshaht Longhouse to exchange introductions and stories.
Darrell Ross, research and planning associate with the Tseshaht First Nation, said that the Tseshaht’s whaling history made them “jump at the opportunity” to host the group.
“I don’t think we’ve ever hosted Inuit before, at least not in youth like this,” he said.
“There’s a commonality between us,” he added.
“They eat whale meat, we used to eat whale meat. Today we’ll share our history and they’ll share what isn’t history for them, but present day.”
Ross said the Tseshaht started coordinating with the cadets a couple months ago. “It’s been a dream of the Tseshaht to one day host the Inuit in a way like this because of whaling culture. Hopefully one day we’ll send our own people up.”
The Tseshaht shared a welcome song and introductions, followed by a short history of their nation and their whaling history. Exchange organizer Sarah Williams and a few of the Naujaat cadets stepped foward to share their own stories from Nunavut. All the cadets were fluent in Inuktitut, as students are taught purely in that language from kindergarten to Grade 3.
The boys shared stories of hunting whales, seals, ptarmigans and caribou, while the girls shared stories of sewing traditional clothing like mittens, boots, jackets and the amauti, or baby-carrying coat. “Most hunters wear traditional clothing that the women have sewn,” said Williams. “You learn that there are better ways to stay warm in the north.”
Food prices are exorbitantly high in the north, so hunters often feed the community. Meat is stored in community freezers.
Introductions and stories were followed by a lunch. “We had a seafood harvest especially for this day,” said Ross.
Later that day, the cadets took a tour of city hall, courtesy of city councillor Ron Paulson, who was acting as mayor in Mike Ruttan’s absence. Paulson gave them a tour of the mayor’s office and the council chambers.
“I like to give them a chance to sit in the mayor’s seat,” Paulson joked.
During their trip, the cadets from Naujaat got to have a number of west coast experiences, including a tour on the MV Frances Barkley, seeing a pod of orcas and sea lions, volunteering at the Healthy Harvest farm and eating doughnuts at the Donut Shop at Harbour Quay. They went out to Tofino for a day, just in time for the Pacific Rim Whale Festival, and took an interpretive tour. The cadets also managed to make a stop in Nanaimo to visit a military museum and meet a Second World War veteran.
“We were very busy,” said Williams. “Pretty much non-stop.”
The arrivals from Naujaat had their trip cut short by a blizzard that brought them in on Monday, March 13 instead of the planned Saturday, March 11, which condensed some of their plans.