Life is like a canoe trip

Aurora Ominika-Enosse is a confident, warm and smiling young Anishnaabe. Her outgoing attitude undoubtedly puts the children, youth and other students with whom she works and volunteers at ease. In her fourth year at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Aurora has nearly completed her social work program and feels called to work with Indigenous children and youth.

Aurora hasn’t always possessed that confidence and sense of appeal. “I grew up in Sudbury, Ontario. I didn’t feel connected to my culture, to being indigenous. I was ashamed of it. I was not proud of myself, of my identity,” she says. “I hated the color of my skin. I wanted to be anything but indigenous.

At 13, Aurora moved from Sudbury to Wiikwemkoong, one of the unceded Anishnaabe territories on Manitoulin Island, Ontario. This move sparked a journey of discovery for her.

While at Wiikwemkoong, she participated in the Outdoor Adventure Leadership Experience (OALE) co-sponsored by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Canada. Through a 10-day canoe trip, the OALE retraces a traditional travel route on the French River. Youth and mentors discuss their history, culture and identity throughout the journey. Young people are encouraged to think about their goals and think about practical steps to achieve them. Since its inception, OALE’s goal has been to build the resilience of Indigenous youth, support their growth, and enable them to meet life’s challenges.

“It’s no secret that Aboriginal youth in Canada face significant challenges,” say the initiative’s leaders. “Generations of trauma have left deep wounds that often inflict heartbreaking damage to their identity, their purpose and even their sense of worth as a people.”

Aurora Ominika-Enosse wearing her grandmother’s traditional fringed dress and Miss Wiikwemkoong’s crown. [Photo: ADRA Canada]

Wiikwemkoong leaders seek to empower their young people, and OALE is one of them. The program instills pride in their heritage and identity as Aboriginal people and builds their capacity and confidence to pursue their dreams. The program was a success.

“We have seen children who had very poor self-esteem and very poor mental health flourish and become role models in the community. They continued to fulfill the dreams they were talking about,” says travel guide Nimkii Lavell.

ADRA Canada is proud to have been a program sponsor since 2017.

Aurora has participated in OALE three times. “The canoe trip was like dipping a toe into my culture, helping me reconnect,” she says.

The young girl who was ashamed of her heritage became Miss Wiikwemkoong from 2017 to 2018, a title dependent on knowing and taking pride in Anishnaabe history and culture. Now she seeks to teach culture and inspire confidence in Indigenous children and youth while willingly sharing with interested non-Indigenous people.

“If I hadn’t connected to my culture, I would probably be really lost today. I don’t know where I would be right now,” Aurora says.

OALE participants posed this metaphor: “Life is like a canoe trip because…” Everyone has their own answer, reflecting their deep thinking and the impact of the trip. “Life is like a canoe trip because…you never know what’s around the corner, but you keep going anyway,” Aurora says.

The original story appeared in the August 2022 issue of Canadian Adventist messenger.

About Ethel Partin

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