So, I can’t lie: I am anxious. Just over seven days ago, forty-five Indigenous young people, representing every province and territory and more accurately, and importantly: thirty-four different First Nations, two Inuit regions and ten urban centres set sail from Halifax, Nova Scotia and are travelling by tall ship to Le Havre, France. They are now a 1/3 of the way along their journey. The young people gathered in Nova Scotia, beginning this adventure with ceremony in traditional Mi’kmaq Territory, on the 29th of July. They took part in initial community building sessions, an on-deck reception and a powerful sendoff that reinforced how much support and love they had: and how they each genuinely deserve the title, Warriors of the Red Road at Sea.
We are grateful for the support of Mount Saint Vincent University and the partnership that’s been developed that will in turn help share the Warriors stories of this experience upon their return. We have no doubt that these will be filled with new found confidence, experiences, relationships and connections: to themselves, each other and their cultures. We also assume, based on our experience with projects of this nature, that these stories will include challenge, discomfort, sweat and tears. And probably some blisters.
Now, don’t be fooled by my words: though anxious, I am filled with confidence. Our land team included Indigenous educators, program managers and designers, facilitators and Elders with years of experience in this realm and a logistics team that continues to ensure every aspect of care is taken for the Warriors. The team that developed the on-board program, including Indigenous youth, did so with intention and in a process, that was rooted in ceremony. We talked, thought about and tested activities that would complement not only each other, but also the sail training program that these young people will be participating in each day.
I have an incredible amount of confidence in our team on the ship; you may have seen or read about them, (if not you can here). They are dynamic, diverse, skilled and incredibly qualified to be in the role as guides for the young Warriors. With their support, the young people will take part in activities that focus on identity, self-care, healing, and leadership development, in addition to the Sail Training program led by the professional crew.
Speaking of them, I have no shortage of confidence in the Captain, his crew and the land team that supports the Golden Leeuw, the stunning and beautiful ship that is carrying these youth across the ocean where they will learn new skills, challenge themselves in ways they never could have imagined and develop confidence in their natural leadership skills. The reports we are getting on the Sail Training every few days reinforces this.
So, though I am filled with confidence, I am also anxious. Who is to say that things won’t happen that no one could plan for? Of course, the first instinct is to think about the safety aspects: accidents do happen and the young people are involved in a high-risk activity. So yes, being a realist, I am anxious about accidents: those things you can’t just avoid. That’s where the trust comes in. The trust in those on the Ship, including the Warriors, helps to alleviate that anxiety. Trust in the process, ceremony and the prayers and good wishes from across the land: that too helps do the trick.
The first day the Warriors were on the ship several parents and I watched as the young people learned how to climb the mast and they did so with courage and determination. Up and up they climbed. Though it was slightly uncomfortable to watch as they went up, rung by rung, along the rope ladder, (as someone who truthfully has no need ever to experience that first hand), we were witness to bravery, tenacity, resolve and purpose. We also saw honesty and truth in those young people who were not ready to climb and voiced it. When those Warriors said no, that is not for me, either at all or right now, it reminded me why they were selected. So again, my confidence in the Warriors and how they were selected helps ease any waves of stress that come with managing a project of this nature.
I appreciate that with forty-five young people, three facilitators and fifteen crew, at times, there could be conflict. There are moments in time where individuals put personalities over principles, not because they are young or not because they are behaving inappropriately, but because they are human. He said, she said, they said. Peoples’ feelings are going to get hurt. People are going to be scared, homesick, nervous and anxious and adding to that, that they may not have the skills to cope with that at that moment, and that can be very overwhelming. In my almost twenty-five years of working alongside young people, I know this to be true: you put young people into a confined space add long days, intense personal work through a program, then add in a different diet, physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion and then, shake it all up: it can create chaos, (intentional or otherwise). Again, it’s how I easily become anxious. Yet I know that’s what believing in the process really means. Thankfully I have had some of the most wonderful teachers who have helped me over the years to get to that place: belief and faith.
I am confident in what we have been able to do and while at the Sail Away Ceremony there was a lot of congratulations for our team, I kept saying ‘wait until August 25th’. We just don’t know how it will flow until then. That said, between ceremony, the Sail Away, reception and program we led in Halifax we did what we needed to allow them to connect and start the development of a community of Warriors. We knew that building relationships would help them on this twenty-five day journey and we ensured, the best we could, that they knew that they had support and love coming from everyone involved in this project. The full team on board including the professional crew of the Gulden Leeuw, our facilitators and the Warriors themselves, they’ve got this. I know they do.
To every parent or ally I have spoken to, I have shared that though I can’t guarantee what this experience will be for their young person, I can guarantee that we have done our very best to create the safest space, in all areas: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. We have put intention into this. We have incorporated ceremony from the start of this project – long before the Warriors were selected. We continue to keep them in our thoughts and offer traditional medicines daily – both on the Ship and here on land. We encourage others to join us in keeping the Ship, crew and Warriors in your thoughts as well. This is what we can all do from land as we cheer them on.
I am grateful not just for the young people and the courage they are showing but also the courage of the families, adult allies and champions of these Warriors that helped them to get to this place and opportunity. In our opening ceremony, led by a local Elder and Catherine Martin, a Mi’kmaq knowledge keeper, we took time for each person in Ceremony to honour those people who helped us get here, figuratively and literally, and it was nothing short of beautiful. So, I say thank you to all of those who have put trust in us at Three Things and all our partners including Assembly of First Nations Office of Regional Chief Morley Googoo, Waterfront Development, Ulnooweg Development Group Inc., Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre, Sail Training International and the Gulden Leeuw; each who have contributed, sweated and stressed, like we have, to help these young people to get to this place.
We are getting updates every several days, from the ship, the Warriors and from our facilitator team. It sounds like as of now the sea sickness has passed for most, but on any given day there is someone who is struggling. But they are being supported by our team, by the crew and it certainly sounds like in the updates, by their peers. They are building a strong community of Warriors.
So as someone who has built Three Things and for almost two decades has been an entrepreneur managing projects of huge enormity, I still can’t help but stress and wonder about what it is like on the ship today. The important part for me is recognizing that I must practice what we are preaching to those young people about patience, the seven sacred teachings and about walking the good road, the red road. This helps faith to trump my fears.
So, this is the page we will continue to share our updates on. Feel free to come back regularly.
And if like me, you are a little anxious then the same message applies to you, that we shared with the Warriors: you are not alone.