THUNDER BAY -- It was only a few years ago that Josh Szajewski learned he had a Metis heritage.
This summer he got an opportunity to completely immerse himself in the culture, taking part in a 2,000 kilometre canoe expedition that channeled the spirit of his ancestors.
“It was really cool to see how different people everywhere embrace the Metis culture,” Szajewski said.
“We learned a lot about a lot of different things and probably one of the most exciting parts of the trip was talking to different people in different communities because we got to hear a lot of different perspectives."
Szajewski and seven other young voyageurs embarked on a 90-day, which odyssey began in May in Ottawa before arriving in Thunder Bay at the main beach at Chippewa Park Friday evening in advance of the Metis Nation of Ontario’s annual general assembly.
The canoe expedition was much better than simply doing research.
“It was pretty awesome to paddle some of the lakes our ancestors did,” he said, adding they learned about traditional Metis practices such as finger weaving and beading in between paddling and portaging across the province.
The voyageurs have had a special spotlight thus far in the assembly proceedings, getting the opportunity to share stories Saturday night and earning congratulations and gratitude from delegates.
For Szajewski, who has aspirations of a law career, the assembly has been a valuable networking opportunity as he has been able to meet top national Metis rights lawyers.
The voyageurs wore their traditional apparel on Sunday afternoon, as the assembly moved outdoors to Chippewa Park for a day of celebration.
It was a lighter afternoon for the assembly after they concluded business during the morning hours.
Metis Nation of Ontario president Gary Lipinski said it is customary to have time set aside for cultural celebrations and that is important for members from all across the province to interact in a casual, relaxed setting.
“You have people who have travelled across the province, some having driven several days to be here and they might not see each other until next year,” Lipinksi said. “This is a big part of that, enjoying each other’s company and sharing that culture not even just with ourselves but with the broader community.”
Activities included voyageur games of hatching tossing, sling shooting, air rifle accuracy and tug of wars.
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