Today, I am sitting on the deck of a former fish processing plant, which is now our office, typing this story on my laptop while I hear belly laughs from the eight Indigenous youth and their canoe trip trainers who are sitting in the driveway around an easel and learning in a circle. Down the driveway, I can see the waves on the waters of Georgian Bay, which Andrew Akiwenzie, the president of the Bagida’waad Alliance, has fished for over 40 years and knows the waters better than anyone else ever could. He is around to help with the small things, like getting out the cots for some of the youth, since there is a thunderstorm coming in tonight, and is around to keep an eye out and lend his knowledge when needed.
The atmosphere is relaxed and joyful — everyone already feels safe and like a team although they only all met a few hours ago. The safety and personal wellness discussion ends up being part comedy hour and part sticky effective learning for the upcoming Algonquin canoe trip.
They had their first opportunity to go out on Georgian Bay this morning with Christopher Akiwenzie, who is currently instructor for a Fanshawe course in Eco Tourism Essentials Certificate at Neyaashiinigmiing, and Dylan White, a globally experienced and professional guide, educator, and biologist. Chris very quickly, and accidentally, tipped over his paddle board and the canoes went in the wrong direction for a while, but it’s a humbling experience for everyone as they experience the power of Nibi (water). The training is a mix of discussions and note-taking outdoors on an easel, with canoeing and swimming on the lake, and will be on for the next six days until the three–day Algonquin trip that everyone is super excited about.
Chris occasionally shares stories of fishing and wildlife encounters, while Dylan shares harrowing and inspirational stories from his experience at both poles conducting tours and scientific explorations. The youth are also sitting in the circle, adding jokes and sharing about their canoe journeys as well. Natasha Akiwenzie, the manager of Bagida’waad who will also be tenting out, smirks often and adds her extensive organizational knowledge around planning for emergencies and considering safety. Last year, she was the main organizer of a ceremonial paddle around Neyaashiinigmiing, led by Elder Justin Johnston with laughter and friendship, to feed the spirit of the whitefish. Her gentle teasing and respectful yet assertive manner help guide the safe experience for the youth.
Five of the youth are staff of the Bagida’waad Alliance, who are actively involved in species identification and scientific surveys for at least two days a week. They are excited to see the wildlife in a different area. They have been asked what their goals for the trip are, and the answers included seeing wolf signs, sighting moose, and gaining experience so they can safely guide canoe trips in the future. One of the most entertaining challenges that one of the youth mentioned is missing civilization!
They are just wrapping up the safety discussion and about to head to the water to do some more canoeing and a swim test. It is wonderful to see the confidence of the youth, the teamwork, being in tune with each other, and laughter! When they get into the canoes, they can see King’s Point and many of the bluffs that are part of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere. For me, it is just another day when I feel honoured to be on the boards of both the Bagida’waad Alliance and the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network.
— Victoria Serda sits on the boards of Bagida’waad Alliance and Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network