A CREDIT UNION
Travelling the Credit has youth giving free walking tours of the Credit River, along with workshops with Indigenous leaders,
Aalia Khan is leading a nature walk through Mississauga’s Creditview Wetland, ambling along a pathway and pointing out the benefits of various trees and plants.
Red-osier dogwood treats arthritis and poison ivy rashes — “which is really cool” — and Goldenrod is used to make tea, the teen says as the group of about15 listen in wonder.
Aalia, 17, is sharing what she learned this summer through Travelling the Credit, a program that brought Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth together to learn about the history, people and ecology of the Credit River. Indigenous elders and leaders led the workshops, which were run by the environmental group Ecosource.
This month, several of those youth, including Aalia, are leading free nature walks along the river. She says the workshops helped deepen her connection with nature — and she appreciated learning from the elders and leaders.
“I’m really passionate about the environment,” Aalia says. “I really like how we learned directly from them.”
Travelling the Credit was funded by the Ontario150 Program and workshops were held on the Credit River and at the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation (MNCFN). Topics included traditional birchbark canoe building by Sylvia Plain; Métis history and culture in the area by Bill Morrison and Darlene Lent; and Anishinaabe traditional foods by Mark Sault and Johl Whiteduck Ringuette.
Carolyn King, who led a workshop about the history of the MNCFN, says it’s important to give youth “a more intimate look at, and relationship with, the First Nations community.”
“I think it will help them with their future perspective of the First Nations people,” says King, co-chair of the New Credit Cultural Committee. “They need to know that we were there at the start, that we’ve been through a lot and we’re still here.”
And, she says, bringing Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth together is “a first step to creating and building relationships.”
One of the program’s focuses is on reconciliation, says Sarah Bale, environmental education youth co-ordinator at Ecosource.
“We can’t get to reconciliation without first hearing and coming to terms with the truths of post-contact history in Canada,” Bale says. “Listening to voices who have historically been marginalized helped to make this program a unique educational experience, and the Indigenous youth who participated were a very important contribution.
“During our trips to New Credit First Nation, it was wonderful to hear some of the Indigenous youth telling their own stories about their own experiences and families.”
For Aalia, whose parents are from India, the program provided an opportunity to learn about Indigenous culture and history. As she leads the nature walk, excitedly speaking of the healing properties of plants, she credits Joseph Pitawanakwat, who ran the workshop about the Indigenous significance of plants along the Credit River, for her new-found knowledge.
Pitawanakwat, who is from Manitoulin Island and a member of the Wikwemikong First Nation, says he is delighted to hear that he made an impact.
The 26-year-old founded Creator’s Garden, an outdoor education-based business, and says he mainly works with Indigenous communities. So, speaking with a diverse group of youth was an unusual experience for him.
“This sort of caught me off guard and I just went about the day answering their questions — they had so much to ask,” Pitawanakwat says. “They were all really young and eager . . . They were hooked.
“Most of those kids walk by there every day, going to school or stores, and they had no idea what was there. It was really fun to be able to open their eyes to all the really amazing things that are right there.”
Now, thanks to the youth-led nature walks, some members of the general public may also have their eyes opened.
“That’s what we want to see: That the knowledge is being shared and the acknowledgement of where it came from.”
One workshop offered to youth through the Travelling the Credit program focused on building birchbark canoes.
Aalia Khan, 17, leads a nature walk at the Creditview Wetland. She says the Travelling the Credit workshops helped deepen her connection with nature.