Cultural exchange brings Ottawa students to Fort Resolution, N.W.T

The Grade 7-and-up students are learning traditional Dene practices and games, and staying in off-the-grid cabins during the visit.

Nine students from each community participated

Two teams compete in the Dene game of pole push, a sort of reverse tug-of-war. (Jimmy Thomson/CBC)

Nine students from Ottawa are visiting Fort Resolution, N.W.T this week. They're learning about trapping, snowshoeing, hand games – but, more importantly, in the process they're picking up some of how their Northern counterparts live. 

The biggest surprise for many of the students was how much alike they were despite the huge distance between them.

"They're actually just like us," says Destin Amisi, a Grade 7 student from Ottawa. 

"They're really friendly. And they understand you. They basically do everything you do. There's no difference between them and us."

The week-long visit is organized by Experiences Canada, a nonprofit that arranges exchanges for students across Canada. The organization spent over $5.3 million in private and public funding last year sending kids across the country. There is no cost to the students besides hosting their "twins" for the week.

Students participating in a cultural exchange in Fort Resolution, N.W.T play a traditional Dene game. One person makes animal noises while the other tries to keep a straight face. (Jimmy Thomson/CBC)
 Alexa Mandeville, a Grade 8 student from Fort Resolution, was partnered with Lauren Court, a Grade 7 student from Ottawa. The two quickly became friends, bonding over a love of their similar sports: Mandeville plays hockey, while Court plays ringette.

Unplugging for the week

For Court, the quiet of the "unplugged" cabins on Mission Island, where the group is staying, is a refreshing change from the city.

"It's so quiet and beautiful, and I'm so used to the big cities with all the people," Court said. "I've never been anywhere where it was so peaceful."

The principal of Deninu School, Kate Powell, says that's not an uncommon reaction among the kids. 

"They're telling me they like it," she said. "It's a lot colder than what they're used to."

"It's definitely been a positive response," she said.  

Elders and teachers from Fort Resolution joined the students at the cabins, teaching trapping, jigging, crafts, and other traditional activities between games like pole push and hand games.

The exchange works both ways; the students who are visiting the North this week will play host in Ottawa later this spring. 

They expect to show their new Northern friends what life is like where they're from, including making the most of what teenagers can really only do in the city.

"I think most likely [we'll] shop," says Mandeville.

Court agrees.

"Yeah, I think we'll definitely do some shopping." 

About the Author

Jimmy Thomson


Jimmy Thomson is a CBC videojournalist based in Yellowknife. He graduated from UBC's Graduate School of Journalism after earning a B.Sc. in biology at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S. You can find him on Twitter at @jwsthomson.