Nova Scotia

Indigenous youths set for 'reflective journey' across Atlantic on tall ship

For many of these young people, who are ages 15 to 24, this is their first time away from home — and even their first time aboard a ship.

Msit No'Kmaq Tall Ships Project will teach 45 youths sailing and leadership skills

Chelsea Jane Edwards, 21, from Attawapiskat Cree First Nation, Ont. has never been onboard a sailing vessel before. She's also terrified of the ocean. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

No phones, no Internet, and no dry land. 

That's what a group of Indigenous young people from across Canada have signed up for.

As part of Msit No'Kmaq Tall Ships Project, a sail training and leadership program, 45 young people will be trekking across the Atlantic Ocean from Halifax to La Havre, France on the dutch ship, the Golden Leeuw.

First time away from home

The young people will be travelling on the Dutch ship Gulden Leeuw from Halifax to France this summer. (Emma Davie/CBC)

"It's very empowering," said Brennan Googoo, 20, from Millbrook First Nation, N.S.

"There's nothing that compares to 20 days at sea with no Internet, no cell phone service, just you and your crew. There's a lot of self reflection."

For many of these young people, who are ages 15 to 24, this is their first time away from home — and even their first time aboard a ship.

The Gulden Leeuw will be home for the 45 Indigenous youth taking part in the Msit No’Kmaq Tall Ship Project. (Emma Davie/CBC)

"I wasn't sure about the entire trip because I'm very nervous about the ocean, and it's one of my biggest fears. So I decided to take a risk anyway and I applied and here I am," said 21-year-old Chelsea Jane Edwards from Attawapiskat Cree First Nation in Ontario. 

"The fact that I get to meet 44 other Indigenous youth and actually say that I've sailed the Atlantic ocean, that's just amazing."

Skills for future employment

Organizer of the Msit No’Kmaq Tall Ship Project, Pytor Hodgson, says he hopes the young people are able to connect with one another. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

Organizer Pytor Hodgson said the project is part of the federal summer jobs program, and he hopes the young people will take away skills they can use in future employment.

"You can imagine how much they're going to learn. But equally important, they're going to take part in a leadership and healing component," said Hodgson, who is also the CEO of Three Things Consulting, an Indigenous company that specializes in projects and events.

"To be able to reflect and look at the story of who they are, and how they can be the strongest and healthiest leaders in their communities."

'We take care of them'

The ship's captain said they offer several programs to young people from Lunenburg throughout the year, but this is a first for the Indigenous group.​

"They learn about sailing, they learn about cooperation, they learn about initiative, leadership, sail handling, being away from mama, all those things," said Arjen Töller.

He said the crew members are prepared to deal with any homesickness or seasickness.

"We take care of them."

A chance to heal

Pytor Hodgson speaks to the participants at the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre on Sunday. (Emma Davie/CBC)

Hodgson said Indigenous youth face so many systemic challenges that they need a chance to connect and heal.

"I hope when they get off the ship they understand how much they matter in this world ... And that they feel like they belong, not just as part of that crew and on that ship and at sea, but when they go back to their communities," he said.

"What's happening is their life is about to change forever."

The Golden Leeuw departs for France from the Halifax Harbour on Tuesday, and the young people on the crew will return home in August.​