A group of Indigenous youth from across Canada are currently sailing across the Atlantic Ocean heading towards Europe.
The group of 45 young people departed from Purdy’s Wharf in Halifax Tuesday morning to begin a 25-day sailing adventure aboard the Dutch tall ship, Gulden Leeuw. The ship is scheduled to arrive at Le Havre, France on Aug. 25.
As family members waved to the group from the wharf, the young people displayed the Samson Cree Nation and Mi’kmaq Grand Council flags as the ship departed to fuel up before getting into position for the Parade of Sail on Tuesday afternoon.
“I’ve never travelled without my family nor have I ever been this far from them, said 17-year-old Tyleigh Buffalo from Maskwacis, Alberta.
“I feel the Creator brought us here, like, we were meant to be here for a reason,” the recent high school graduate said prior to boarding the ship.
Buffalo and the others are taking part in a leadership program called Msit No’kmaq (All My Relations) Tall Ship Project. The program is designed to help the young people develop and hone their leadership skills while receiving sail training.
More than half of the young people taking part are from Atlantic Canada. The rest are from every province and northern territory in Canada.
While aboard the Gulden Leeuw, they’ll be part of a crew that maintains the tall ship as it makes it way to Le Havre. The young people will be paid during their four-week voyage through a federal summer jobs program.
“Someone might be working in the kitchen one day, cleaning the floors the next day, and hoisting sails the next day,” explained Pytor Hodgson, an Anishinaabe from Kingston, Ont., who helped develop the youth program.
“So each day, their role on the ship will change with their watch,” he said.
According to Hodgson, who works with 3 Things Consulting, the group will also be working with facilitators on a daily basis.
“We want to be able to provide space and create space for Indigenous young people to talk, to share, to learn, to build on their existing assists and strengths,” Hodgson explained.
“(They’ll) get off this ship at the end of August as stronger and healthier leaders that will go back to their communities across this country and continue to be able to share their gifts with others,” he said.
“That’s when I get the adreneline rush” – Hannson Paul
In preparation for the four-week voyage, staff crew members with the Gulden Leeuw gave the group some training on how to maintain the ship, including the sails. As part of their training, several members of the group climbed to the top of the ship using a rope ladder.
“The ropes were shaking a little bit,” 19-year-old Hannson Paul said. “ That was a little nerve-wracking but when I got to the top, it was okay,” he said.
“I love it when (the ship) heels, Paul explained. “When it’s at the point of going over but it almost doesn’t. Like, that’s when I get the adrenaline rush. That’s just the thing I love,” the Halifax resident said.
Paul, a Mi’kmaw with the Acadia First Nation, N.S., said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sail across the Atlantic with other Indigenous youth like himself.
“I’ve actually never been out of Canada so that’s the biggest thing for me. I’m excited to get to France,” the Nova Scotia Community College student said.
“I don’t know many people under the age of 20 who can say that they sailed across the Atlantic,” he added.
Buffalo, a member of the Samson Cree Nation, said she’ll be thinking about her family back in Alberta while she is out at sea.
“Since I’ve gotten on the plane and since I’ve landed here, I’ve always been thinking about them,” Buffalo said.
“I know they’re thinking about me. I definitely want to accomplish this for them and for myself,” she said.
The youth sail was organized by Morley Googoo, Assembly of First Nations Vice-Chief for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, and sponsored by Halifax’s Waterfront Development Corp., Ulnooweg Development Corp., and the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre.
The group will be greeted by leaders and some family members when they arrive in Le Havre, France at the end of the month. From there, they’ll make their way back home by plane.