Six students from Trinity Western University in Langley visited the First Nations people on the Fort Babine reserve May 6 to 28.
Katie Robertson, a member of the Babine team, says the purpose of the trip was to build relationships, learn from people, hear their stories, and walk though a month of life with them.
“It was a missions trip not based on building something or accomplishing a goal, but rather just going to live and be part of the community,” said Ben Bouwman, another member of the Babine team.
The trip was a volunteer, extracurricular service-learning trip organized through the Global Projects Department, said Johannah Wetzel, coordinator of global projects at Trinity Western University.
Wetzel says she’s not sure exactly how it started but the school was looking for a connection in northern B.C. for a team to do a short-term service trip, and a student at that time connected them with a missionary in Moricetown who connected them with Fort Babine residents.
The student trips stopped in 2005 because of lack of student interest, and in 2011 the trip was started up again by several students and staff, including Wetzel and Janessa Grypma, student leader of the trip this year and last.
Grypma says she “wanted opportunities to learn more about our first nations neighbours,” and she liked how the trip was focused on relationships, loving, learning and listening.
“Rather than coming in with a fix-it mentality… we’ve come in with the mentality of showing love through building relationships,” said Robertson.
“We need to be humble and come in with a servant attitude, ready to learn and listen, not to come in with a superior attitude… I need to be a listener before I can even think about suggesting any change,” she said.
Grypma says the students spent the month helping in the school, babysitting, doing some community clean up, hosting community dinners and a concert, and visiting people in their homes.
“A large part of this trip is for our students to gain awareness about what life on a reserve and in a village is like, and to really be made more aware of the issues and what is happening in our context right now,” Wetzel said.
She adds that the students this year had been looking at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission because it is coming to Vancouver in September.
“That’s been a large part of the trip as well.. looking at the reconciliation process and residential schools and how we can continue to be a part of the reconciliation that is happening,” Wetzel said.
First Nations recording artist Cheryl Bear partnered with the team of students from Trinity Western University to come and put on a concert in Fort Babine at the end of May. Bear says she is Nadleh Whut’en from the Carrier Nation and she lives in Vancouver. She has recorded three CDs, is an international convention speaker and was awarded the 2007 “Single of the Year” by Aboriginal People’s Choice Music Awards. Bear says Fort Babine is the last Carrier village she needed to go to and now she has been to them all. She says her goal is to visit every one of the roughly 1,000 First Nations communities in North America ￼￼and she has already been to 530.
Team member Bouwman says he thought it was great to hear the stories of the people.
“If someone can tell me their story [it] might lighten their burden a bit because they are sharing it with someone else,” he said.
“It’s been hard to hear about people’s sufferings, but [it’s cool how] they enjoy sharing with me,” he said.
Bouwman says his whole experience was good, and every part added to it, even that times that weren’t so fun.
“It’s a cross cultural thing, so its not like we’re going to be comfortable the whole time, but it’s great to be pushed into situations and learn to enjoy it,” he said.
Grypma says one thing she’s learned is the wisdom of silence.
“We shouldn’t be afraid of the wisdom that silence brings…We’re so used to wanting to talk and have ourselves heard, but there’s so much wisdom in being silent and allowing each other to just be,” she said.
“I think we need to sit down together and allow each other to just be, regardless of our past and what we’ve gone through and our social status and ethnicity – that doesn’t matter. It’s in stories that we find our common humanity,” said Grypma.
There’s a time to laugh and a time to cry and her time in Babine has had both, Grypma said.
“A lot of us on our team have lost someone recently so we’re all going through our own grieving process, and our friends [in Babine] have all lost friends or family members recently too. So our time here has been a lot of crying together but also laughing together,” she said.
Grypma says this is her third time on the Babine trip, and coming to Babine felt like coming home to family.
Robertson felt the same way.
“The one thing that really stood out to me was how deep the connections have been this year,” she said.
Robertson says one of her favourite parts was sitting and visiting with a woman in her home, hand sewing rows of squares for a quilt.
“We had long moments of beautiful silence but there were also beautiful moments of getting to hear about her culture and her life and sharing some of my life with her,” Robertson said.
“I no longer see these people just as connections that I’ve made or relationships that I’ve formed but I see them as friends and family,” said Robertson.
“[They are] people who are so dear to my heart,” she said.