A student exchange organized through YMCA Youth Exchanges Canada took place between Stratford District Secondary School (SDSS) in Stratford, Ontario and Peter Pitseolak School in Kinngait last month.

Eleven students returned to Ontario following a week-long stay in Kinngait through mid-October. That trip was the first part of the exchange.

The Ontario students ranged from Grades 9 through 12 and were accompanied by Paul Finkelstein, human rights and equity resource teacher at SDSS, SDSS principal Erin Cassone, and Monique Pregent, an Indigenous education leader at SDSS.

When the students arrived, they were greeted in the community by Northern lights.

They found the community to be “warm and welcoming”, and a blog describing their journey stated: “It began to feel like home … we built connections with people that made it hard to leave.“

While in Kinngait, the students from Stratford ate traditional foods, such as bannock, polar bear, snow goose, seaweed, fresh clams and beluga. They went to the Kenojuak Cultural Centre to watch local Inuit artists ply their craft. They worked with local artisans to learn how to bead and carve. They planned, shopped and prepared meals for Elders, students and the community in partnership with their Kinngait twin families.

Students from Kinngait returned the favour and visited Stratford at the end of October. While they were there they planned to visit farms, tour the city, visit Toronto, have a First Nations experience and spent lots of time engaging with students and their exchange family, said Finkelstein.

The group explored the community and surrounding lands on long daily walks through the community with their new friends from Kinngait. They were immersed in Inuit culture and spent time learning about the history of the Dorset, Thule and Inuit peoples of the area.

Cole Cassone, a Grade 12 student from SDSS, said the people there were so welcoming, that he made a lot of friends and is planning to stay in touch with some of the students he met.

Grade 12 student Napatchie Takpaungai was part of the group from Kinngait that travelled to Ontario. She was excited to visit the province.

In an interview before leaving, she said the thing she was most looking forward to experiencing a lot of things and make some friends.

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