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Membertou Student attends 12-week Indigenous youth program in New Zealand

June 24, 2024

About Me
Telusi Susan Bernard tleyawi Maupeltu, Unama’kik. My name is Susan Bernard from Membertou, Cape Breton. I’m 26 years old and currently living in Ōtautahi (Christchurch), Aotearoa (New Zealand.) I currently attend Cape Breton University in a Bachelor of Arts degree while working full time. Running is a huge part of my life. I’ve ran 5-kilometre races all the way to a half marathon (21.09 km.) I love training for races; it helps keep me focused on my goals and it’s exciting to watch my progress over time. I’m a part of two running groups back home; Infinite Fitness and Cape Breton Roadrunners. Going on group runs helps keep me motivated, especially during the winter months. I’m currently training for my first
marathon (42.195 kilometres) this October at the Fiddlers Marathon. Storytelling is another passion of mine. I was a co-host on the podcast “Strength from Stardust” with my Mi’kiju Serena where we interviewed Indigenous Star Knowledge Keepers and retold Mi’kmaw star stories. Although reading is my favourite form of storytelling, I love getting lost in a good book. Fantasy has been my favourite genre for as long as I can remember. There is something magical about characters on grand adventures in different worlds that I love (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Stormlight Archive, etc.). I think that’s why I felt so compelled to go on my own adventure to Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud.

Before the Adventure

The months leading up to everything I had been silently asking for a change in my life, uncertain of what that would look like. It felt like fate when I saw a post on Facebook about a group of Indigenous Youth going to New Zealand for three months. I’ve always wanted to travel to New Zealand, and this was the perfect opportunity. Go International and Jenza partnered to create the program aimed towards Indigenous
Youth (ages 18-35) from Canada. When I saw the poster in March, they were looking for people to apply to their third and last cohort, leaving in a month. The application process for the exchange was straightforward. I sent in my online application and received an email for a quick interview. The day after my interview I heard I was accepted! I had to apply for a working holiday visa to find work in NZ, buy heath insurance, and a plane ticket. It did feel overwhelming trying to get everything arranged in a short period of time because I applied close to the deadline, but everything worked out. I’ve now been living in Aotearoa since the April 6 th . In the beginning, the thought of being across the world with new people for the next twelve weeks was both exciting and scary. There was this moment on my way to the airport I’ll never forget. My parents drove me from Membertou to the Halifax to catch my flight. The four-hour drive there felt surreal. I was trying to finish my last assignment for school, but my mind kept wandering to the trip. How would the next three months be? Am I ready for this? Eventually we get to the stretch of road leading up to the airport. I’m sitting in the back looking out towards the airport and “Rocket Man” by Elton John starts
playing on the radio. As weird as it sounds, it felt powerful in that moment. I remember feeling like it was a good sign and I would be okay leaving everyone for the next three months.

After two days in airports and planes, I finally made it to the hostel in Auckland, tired but excited! Thirteen of us slowly started to arrive over the next few days. The night before orientation, we all went out to dinner to get to know each other. After going around and each of us answering questions like “Where are you from?” and “What brought you here?”, we find out that we come from territories all over Canada. From the west coast in British Columbia to the east coast in Labrador and everywhere in between, we were brought together for an adventure to Aotearoa.
Adventure Begins. After a few days in the city, we began our journey to other parts of the country. We were on our way to Paihia, a beach town in North in Ipipiri (Bay of Islands.) On the drive there our driver to took us swimming at Wairahi (Langs Beach) a long sandy beach with the huge waves. Later we visited Whangarei Falls; a beautiful waterfall 26.3m high waterfall. Our last stop before the hostel was to visit Tane Mahuta, the largest living tree in the country the 5 th in the world. The following day we visited to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. This is where Te Tiriti o
Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi) was signed in 1840 between Māori and the British Crown. (More info at https://www.waitangi.org.nz/about/history) We visited Te Whare Rūnanga, the traditional Māori carved marae/meeting house. The carvings outside and inside represent the unity of Māori throughout Aotearoa and represent each iwi (tribe.) An artist from each iwi carved something to represent their iwi. (More info at https://www.waitangi.org.nz/visit/te-whare-runanga) Outside of Te Whare Rūnanga we were welcomed with beautiful songs. We took our shoes off and went inside where heard traditional songs and witnessed a traditional haka. Afterwards
we were allowed to take pictures of the marae and talk with the man and woman sharing their cultural knowledge with us. The next day we had options for different excursions like parasailing, skydiving and a sunset cruise. A few of us decided we wanted to go sky diving! This was one of my favourite memories! Our jump was at sunrise and the views were phenomenal. The sun rising on the horizon, the green patches of fields and trees, the big fluffy clouds and the water were sights I will never forget.

After our time in Ipipiri, we travelled down to Te Awanui (Tauranga) where we would be picking kiwi fruit for the next four weeks. The job was physically demanding, and the hours were unpredictable. During our downtime we would go hiking, stargazing, watch movies, visit the hot pools, and go to the beach. We were frequent visitors at Mount Maunganui and Maunganui Beach which was only a 15-minute drive from our accommodations. After four weeks in Te Awanui a couple of us temporarily left the main group to see the South Island of NZ. We are now in Ōtautahi (Christchurch) for the next few weeks until we all meet up again for the end of the program.

Adventures to Come
The last week of our program we will explore Te Rotorua-nui-a-Kahumatamomoe, visit Ōhinemutu Māori Village, try a traditional hangi dinner, experience a full kapa haka and visit Whakarnewarewa Geothermal Valley. After our time in Rotorua, we will make our way to Auckland where we will take part in a youth forum. I’m looking forward to experiencing and learning more about Matariki which marks the Māori New Year. The celebrations and ceremonies for Matariki happen when Pleiades rises during a certain lunar period. This year it rises on June 28 th , 2024. In the book “Matariki: The Star of the Year” by Dr. Rangi Matamua writes “The rebirth of the Matariki celebrations has done much to highlight Māori astronomy and to re-establish the Matariki tradition throughout the country.” Dr. Matamua is widely recognized for his advocacy to have Matariki a public holiday. There will be huge celebrations across Aotearoa. It’s inspiring to see the regeneration and regrowth of Māori astronomy; I can’t wait to learn more about Maōri star knowledge.