On the Land Gathering Draws Youth from Across Canada

Groundswell has partnered with Curtis Rattray of the Tahltan Nation with the support of the Tahltan Band Council to host a multi-day experience in Tahltan Nation to build relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures.

By: Amy Logan
Source: Westender, July 17, 2017

Wholistic Indigenous Leadership Development leads campouts in the wilderness of Tahltan Nation in northern BC. Curtis Rattray photo

Wholistic Indigenous Leadership Development leads campouts in the wilderness of Tahltan Nation in northern BC. Curtis Rattray photo

Twenty-three hours north of Vancouver lies a place of wild beauty where grizzlies, wolves, and caribou roam the mountainous terrain.

It is home to the Tahltan Nation, and, this August, it will host the inaugural On the Land Indigenous Gatheringa multi-day experience for youth from locations across the country.

It's intended to foster connections between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth and to use Canada's 150th birthday as the starting point for building new relationships for the next 150 years.

Gilad Babchuck, co-founder and director at the Vancouver-based Groundswell business school, is working closely with Curtis Rattray, a member of the Crow clan and Nalokoteen of Tahltan Nation, to select applicants and organize the conference.

The pair met last year at a Groundswell screening of Rattray's documentary, Colours of Edziza. The film follows a journey undertaken by a leader of the Tahltan Nation and a West Coast mountaineer and investment professional, who take two younger Tahltans into the mountain wilderness to learn from the land.

Babchuck was immediately captivated. He saw Rattray as "an educator, a philosopher, a person involved in social venture with an amazing perspective."

For Babchuck, the film revealed "a difference in the culture and in how we see and implement leadership."

Arriving from Israel six years ago, Babchuck comes from a family of Holocaust survivors. He saw some similarities between Jewish and First Nations culture and history. Both groups were systemically oppressed, but they found different ways to handle the trauma.

"First Nations people seem to deal with the trauma without surrendering to the mainstream. They don't use or abuse the trauma," Babchuck says.

The idea for a conference on the land began to take shape after Babchuck and his teenage son joined Rattray for an 11-day adventure in the wilderness, hunting, fishing, camping and learning about traditional culture.

Babchuck relates a story about hunting with a First Nations family. The 17-year-old son caught a moose, which, if sold, could fetch a high price. But instead of selling it, "he cleaned it and then donated it for an AGM, saying, ‘In our culture, if you want respect, you give.’"

Babchuck was amazed at the young man’s thinking. The experience made him realize the privileged perspective of Western culture.

"It changed my point of view and I'm still digesting," he says. For his son, it was a sort of rite of passage.

“[He] became a much more critical thinker, more curious about the history of Canada. He started asking: What is just? How can we fix that? Am I responsible?"

On the Land participants will gather round campfires, sleep in tents and gain a sense of connection to the land. Curtis Rattray photo

On the Land participants will gather round campfires, sleep in tents and gain a sense of connection to the land. Curtis Rattray photo

Deeply involved in reconciling inherent Tahltan rights and title issues, Rattray is also an experienced backcountry hiker and camper, offering guided Aboriginal adventure tours, and is the founder of Wholistic Indigenous Leadership Development (WILD).

The purpose of the On the Land gathering is threefold according to Rattray: to learn about Canada's colonial history; to understand the current political, economic and social situation; and to explore a new future through the reconciliation of prior Indigenous sovereignty with the assertion of Crown sovereignty.

"It will be a place to start to teach people about decolonization and reconciliation, to create awareness and the capacity to make change in their own local environment," he says.

Conference participants will gather round campfires, sleep in tents and gain a sense of connection to the land. Visiting cultural transformation sites, participants will engage in "facilitated discussions on colonization." They will also hone bush skills by learning and experiencing survival skills on the land.

The experience has the potential for "cultural transmission to the younger generation, a connection to a spiritual presence," Rattray says, noting that, "it's taken multiple generations to get here. There's intergenerational trauma. Reconciliation is about decolonization."

But he wants to work from a "place of hope rather than one of anger."

The spectacular landscape of the Tahltan Nation is home to wolves, grizzly bears and caribou. Curtis Rattray photo

The spectacular landscape of the Tahltan Nation is home to wolves, grizzly bears and caribou. Curtis Rattray photo

We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada.

Nous reconnaissons l'appui financier du gouvernement du Canada.


Amy Logan is a Vancouver writer, editor and English instructor with an ear for trends in the arts, community and environment. She is a regular contributor to Metro News, and joins the Westender for the summer to explore the artists, creatives, environmentalists and adventurers who make Vancouver tick.


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