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A Chaperone’s First Paddle: Tom’s Story

Tom Higashio is a Youth Recreation Programmer with Britannia Community Services Centre in Vancouver. Here he shares his experience as a first-time chaperone with the KL Canoe Family, in his own words:

I had the privilege to be included on the Kw’umut Lelum Tribal Journey to Nisqually 2016. It was an incredible experience and one that will be remembered for a lifetime.

I went in expecting that the paddling and the sights through the areas we traveled would be the highlight. I was wrong! The entire experience was, but mainly the relationships with the youth, their smiles and excitement as they stepped on the protocol floor, how proud the youth were as they performed, especially when the audience joined them for three of their songs, and in particular, the “Equality Song”. The “Equality Song” has ties to values I strongly believe in, and witnessing the emotion evoked in so many as the song was performed was awe inspiring. Even now, as I write this, just the thought of the youth performing the “Equality Song” gives me chills of excitement. Since returning home, numerous times I have been asked if I would do it again, and my response has naturally been, “with the special canoe family I had, I would go again right now.”

I felt included from the onset, as soon as I met the other chaperones and youth. They were welcoming, engaging and shared knowledge, culture and what they were comfortable sharing about themselves with me. As the journey progressed, I learned more and more from and about everyone. It truly is a special family.

It was amazing getting to know the youth, and having them include me in to their family. They are all such unique personalities, with great stories they are willing to share once they feel comfortable and respected. Each and every one of them contributed to the fantastic experience. Watching them get excited in preparation for their protocol, and beam with pride, passion, and confidence as they enthusiastically and energetically performed for large crowds that were anxiously anticipating their performance. People were constantly asking when KL’s turn for protocol was as they had heard how inspiring the youth were. The youth were well prepared by Britta and her team, who helped ensure the youth were given the skills to have a positive experience with their songs, drumming, dancing and public speaking. They were so amazing to watch!

A strong adult support team was compiled, lead by Britta Peterson. Routes, expectations, policies and procedures were well planned out and articulated. The elders, Roy and George shared knowledge, gave feedback, and facilitated small group discussions when necessary. Mamalina, Papi, Patrick and Steve, had great relationships with the youth, worked hard, were quick to take initiative and leadership, and were always aware of what was going on. It was easy to step in and assist this well-functioning and well-lead team. Youth were aware of the 'rules' and understood the rules and expectations were there for their safety. Issues and surprises were neutralized quickly and directly, with the best interest and safety of the youth and program always kept in mind.

Youth were empowered to step up and take leadership. Even as a newcomer, you can see that the youth have developed skills, confidence, awareness and ownership of themselves and the family. They were guided by KL staff to learn, to make mistakes, and were given feedback and insight to become the best people they could be.

As someone who has been involved in the youth field in downtown Vancouver for numerous years, this experience is something that I wish all of our youth could get involved in. It was so unique, positive and life influencing! From the relationships, activities, protocol, preparedness and the journey, this is truly a best practice.

Photo credit Photo cred Facebook profile Arianna Lauren

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