A group of adults and youth from the Rocky Native Friendship Center met with high school students from Caroline School at the complex on Tuesday, February 15. This was part of the “Common Grounds” initiative carried out by the Rocky Native Friendship Center over the last number of months and was the first session involving youth from the mainstream culture who were given an opportunity to ask prepared questions of a panel of youth and elders. A video presentation preceded the question and answer session, where the challenges of being a native in Canada were presented with some force: Aboriginal people were only allowed to vote in Canada, beginning in 1967, 100 years after confederation, for example. But they were happily accepted into the army to sacrifice their lives for Canada prior to that time.
Questions asked of the panel included the rationale for unrestricted hunting by native people (answer: a native tradition that does not include commercial exploitation), definition of who is “First Nation” (a complex question because of native/mainstream intermarriages) and crime on reserves ( image promoted by news media). Rocky Native Friendship Center Director Merle White pointed out that, not long ago, it used to be a crime for First Nations people to practice their own culture. Grade 12 student Samantha Strawberry, who now lives off reserve (O”Chiese), said that it is very difficult to return to a reserve once you have lived in the mainstream culture. Chuck Rhoads, who comes from the Nisga'a people on the West Coast noted that lawyers walk away with most of the money from treaty negotiations and that the media gave upbeat reports about changes for native people on the West Coast when in fact nothing has changed. Generally speaking, the questions and answers reflected cultural differences between Canada’s indigenous peoples and the predominantly European mainstream culture. Merle White suggested that there needs to be an ongoing dialogue to bridge this gap.