Danielle Wall of Wet’suwet’en First Nation says that a cultural exchange program in Nicaragua has opened her eyes to the resilience and strength of her culture. Now she’s recruiting other local people to take part in the Indigenous Youth Empowering Students Program (IYES). Six people from the Burns Lake area have already signed up for a trip that’s taking place from June 7 to 16.
When she first travelled to Nicaragua ten years ago with a personal development group, she had never gone abroad. “I didn’t think it was possible for me to travel,” she said, citing barriers including the high cost of globetrotting. But the trip this June will be her fourth trip to the Central American country.
These experiences have been deeply moving for Wall. She found many similarities between life in Nicaragua and at home on the Wet’suwet’en reserve, except the poverty was much starker — and the level of cultural assimilation was much more complete.
This inspired her to explore her own language and culture — which she had previously taken for granted — and since then, she has begun teaching the Wet’suwet’en language with her grandmother, though Wall describes herself as a beginner.
Her visit also opened her eyes to the realities of extreme poverty, including one community of people living at an urban landfill. But she was moved by how generous these people were — a spirit of generosity that reminded her of home. The experience gave her an overwhelming sense of gratitude for her community, she said.
She wanted to bring people from her community to Nicaragua — an idea that she wrote about in her journal at her the time.
That dream became a reality a few months later when she heard from Tom Affleck, the founder of SchoolBOX —an education development charity — who told her about his idea for the IYES project.
Less than a year later, Wall had co-founded the program and was in Nicaragua with two youth from northern B.C., one from northern Alberta and another from Nunavut.
Looking back on her old journal entry gave her a feeling of empowerment. “The universe worked its magic,” she said.
She’s now recruiting people from the community and encouraging youth to take part in the cultural exchange. “Our goal, I think is to empower more Indigenous youth and get them inspired,” she said.
The plan for this year is to spend about ten days building a classroom for a school in Nicaragua. Construction happens in the morning, and then excursions are planned in the afternoons.
Participants from Canada learn about the culture of their Nicaraguan counterparts all week, and one day is set aside for the visitors to share aspects of their culture, including the Wet’suwet’en language, clan system and potlatch.
Participants in this year’s trip are currently raising funds, including through pizza sales and bake sales. Anyone interested in the program can learn more about it from https://schoolbox.ca/iyes/ or by contacting Wall at firstname.lastname@example.org.