COLUMN: Gift of travel is cultural connections

‘Inspired’ by South Surrey students who shared experience of Haida Gwaii

Did you have an opportunity to read the travel blogs written by Earl Marriott students Rori Denness-Lamont and Jessica Cooper? If not, I suggest going through the Peace Arch News’ archives online (or clicking on the links below) and taking them in, preferably with a hot cuppa in hand.

They are the kind of feel-good read that we all cherish in our community news and I hope the students continue to write about their wisdom gained as time goes on.

To recap, a group of Earl Marriott Secondary students and teachers embarked on a nine-day journey to the beautiful islands of Haida Gwaii for a cultural immersion experience that sounds like it became so much more.

Denness-Lamont wrote about the opportunity to disconnect from social media and meaningfully connect with peers, and Cooper painted a beautiful picture of pristine, unadulterated nature.

I couldn’t be happier for this group of teens who got to solidify the concept of community in this gorgeous archipelago of our province.

READ MORE: Haida Gwaii is a celebration of life and love

I enjoyed reading about the interest the students took in the art, culture and language of the Haida people.

We are finally at a place in our education system where we have Orange Shirt days to recognize the grotesque, systematic destruction of our Indigenous people’s culture through residential schools.

READ MORE: Haida Gwaii trip prompts ‘clearer sense of knowledge on Indigenous culture’

READ MORE: Haida Gwaii trip offers ‘opportunity to disconnect’ for South Surrey students

We are finally at a place where ‘reconciliation’ is a term even our children are familiar with. We are finally at a place where, in school assemblies and other places of gathering, we recognize the unceded territory on which we live, work and play. We celebrate Indigenous week at school and have guest speakers come in for brief presentations. But the best way to get to know a culture is immersion – visit homes and local treasures while engaging with the people you are learning about.

In 1987, my family took a holiday on Vancouver Island. I believe we started off in the Parksville/Qualicum area and then headed west to Tofino. The details are a little blurry now, but what stands out, clear as day, is the bumpy boat ride on the open seas to Ahousat.

Ahousat is a small community on Flores Island that we visited on a guided tour led by a mustachioed man named Corby. As part of the tour, my family and I ate a smoked-salmon lunch and visited with elders. Among them was Peter S. Webster, author of As Far As I Know: Reminiscences of an Ahousat Elder, who died six years after I met him. I still have his book, signed to me, in my home library.

I remember his gruff voice and his shaky hand as he penned my name. I should add that I was nine years old at the time, but the impact of meeting someone who had lived through so much, had so much wisdom, has remained with me.

Reading about the students’ trip took me back to the days when I would list countries I wished to travel to and languages I wanted to learn. I have no idea where those doodles are, but I can tell you that my hope was to have immersive experiences everywhere I went.

To me, the true gift of travel is to build bridges, make connections, across cultures. Doing this with humility and respect (and not just for the ’gram) is something I aim to be conscious of. I hope that as we adults travel the globe or this jewel of a province, we take things in with the same sense of awe and appreciation that these youth did. They have inspired me to add Haida Gwaii to my current travel bucket list.

Columnist Taslim Jaffer writes monthly on multicultural connections.

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