BY ANUJAN RAVICHANDRAN
It was definitely a week I’ll never forget. We boarded our flight on April 12, 2019. I remember feeling overwhelmed with excitement. We were getting on board our flight to Vancouver. I, along with 19 other students from our school, were selected to be a part of a YMCA Cultural Exchange Program. As part of the program, the 20 of us on board that plane were to spend a week living with the Tsleil Waututh Nation in North Vancouver, learning about their culture and their way of life. Then for another week, the Tsleil Waututh kids we would have bonded with would come over to Scarborough and have a look at the culture of Toronto.
During my stay with the Tsleil Waututh nation, I gained unique insight into the culture and everyday life of the people living there. Everyone welcomed us, their humble guests, enthusiastically. During our stay, we were treated to a large potluck feast, attended by almost everyone in their small but strong community. I could tell that this was special to not only the 20 of us on the exchange, but also to the whole community. We met with the community elders and shared stories of our lives in Toronto. It was also the first time I had tried moose meat—it tasted pretty good.
After the dinner finished, we were treated to a special address by the chief of the Tsleil Waututh Nation. She gave us a rundown on her nation’s past and sorrowful history. These were the “People of the Inlet”, referring to the Burrard inlet and cove they lived by. She explained that their ancestors would live off the inlet and its shores, collecting oysters and crabs, as well as catching fish. All this had changed with the push of Canadian colonialism. Their people were looked down upon and constantly discriminated against. Children were forced to go to residential schools, and as a result, lost their identities, their culture, and their way of life. Fast forward to today, it is clear that the problems of Canadian colonialism plaguing them have yet to disappear. Exactly off the other side of Tsleil Waututh’s coast is a large bellowing eye sore of an oil refinery, pumping pollutants into their air and coastal waters. This pollution is partly why Tsleil Waututh’s people can no longer fish freely in their waters. The chief later concluded her presentation with a smile on her face and welcomed us again to their community.
That presentation and the sights I saw during my stay with Tsleil Waututh have affected the way I see the world profoundly. Not all Indigenous groups of Canada are the same—far from it—but they share the same unjust past and present. The people of Tsleil Waututh and other Indigenous communities across the country have lost and continue to lose a great deal of what was once proudly theirs. My time with Tsleil Waututh has helped me to understand and empathize with them, as well as several other Indigenous nations and the problems they face. For one, with the issue of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which is opposed by Tsleil Waututh, I now understand that this project will increase the risk of further pollution on their sacred lands. I now understand why the nation fights so vehemently against the loss of even more of what is theirs.
My stay with Tsleil Waututh was definitely a week I’ll never forget. It was a week of learning, of creating new friendships, creating new memories, and most importantly, it was an eye-opening week of understanding.