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NNSL Photo

Students from Vancouver Island and Fort Simpson combined to build several shelters at the Spirit Discoveries camp along the Mackenzie highway north of Fort Simpson. The first half of a student exchange has been taking place this week. - Derek Neary/NNSL photo

A different way of life

Southern students get a taste of small town living and Dene culture

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (May 02/03) - Some things that are commonplace for Fort Simpson students are very unfamiliar to visiting students from Vancouver Island.

Some of the differences are spectacular.

"I saw the Northern Lights last night. That was really cool," said Kyla Lavallee, a Grade 8 student.

Other contrasts are not so dazzling.

"There are big bugs and mosquitoes here," Francesca Champagne-Holland pointed out.

The 23 students from Qualicum school district and their four chaperons joined their Thomas Simpson school counterparts in the bush on Monday and Tuesday. As part of the YMCA Youth Exchange Program, the visitors were given an introduction to Dene culture. They learned about traditional drums, took part in a talking circle, listened to stories and legends, skinned a caribou and made dry meat.

"I'll tell you, they were quite excited," district vice-principal Rosie McLeod-Shannon said of her students. "Some of these kids have never been on planes ... or left (Vancouver) island. This is major for them."

Not only did they fly in a jet, they also got a helicopter tour of Fort Simpson on Monday morning.

Jasmine Graham, who is in Grade 8, said she was thoroughly enjoying her stay.

"It's cool. It's an interesting experience. I've never been to a town this small," said Graham, who comes from a school district that encompasses 30,000 people. "There are some really nice people. I'd love to come here again."

Thomas Simpson's Megan Okrainec and April Fradsham said they welcomed their new friends, but they had to explain some things to them like the symbolism of moose in Dene culture. The B.C. students will get a chance to introduce their 20 Northern peers to big-city life from May 9-16. The itinerary includes shopping, a movie, mini-golf and a day at the beach.

"I just want to see new things and the ocean and meet more new people," said Fradsham.