This is Part 2 in SWY 29’s Canadian Identity Series.

Canadangujunga means”I am Canada” in Inuktitut

I’m probably one of the oldest Canadians taking part in SWY. Not in age, because I think I’m actually one of the youngest delegates, but in origin. Inuit are one of the three indigenous peoples native to our country, and one of very few peoples who have survived in the cold, dark Arctic for over ten thousand years. Now, Adjectives like cold and dark may sound bleak but in actuality there is an innate beauty in the long winters with no sun. There’s a sense of connection when you stand under the northern lights and just breathe.

Often times, those of us who grew up in the arctic laugh at tourists and newcomers when they’re so in awe of the land we know so well. But, that same feeling of awe hits me so hard whenever it’s just me, the land, and my ancestors watching. And I don’t mean that I think there are ghosts following my every move. It’s just an ever-present sense of home that I can’t describe any other way. Like, I belong between these vast mountains and under a sky that hits the horizon but goes on forever.

There’s a feeling of complete vulnerability that comes along with recognizing just how old the world is, and just how young Nunavut is. Canada is.

Because my ancestors, they’re the ones who survived, resilience and intelligence guiding them through conditions that most would starve, freeze, or get eaten in. They were here long before the British, or the French, or even the Vikings. And one of the things that separate Inuit from other indigenous communities, is just how minimal our contact has been with the rest of Canada, and just how recent our colonization has been.

There has been a Canadian presence in the North for quite a while, but in the form of a few missionaries and the ever-colonial Hudson’s Bay company. While there was contact, the Inuit were still living traditional, nomadic lives.

My grandparents were both born on the Tundra, with only family to help. My mother and her siblings were born in their family home in a little town called Clyde River.

It’s this knowledge, this breathtaking truth, that makes me feel so proud to be Inuk. But it also hurts me; it makes me feel ashamed that I will never know the land, the stories, and the language that I’m so proud of. Not like my cousins, or their families. I used to blame it on the fact that my father is white – I’m white. I still have trouble sometimes, admitting to myself and to others that I’m white. But, it isn’t my whiteness that kept me from my culture. At least, not directly. Some of it is based on the fact that, as a child, other Inuit saw only my whiteness. Not even that though, it was the privilege that comes with being white. I hate it, because I grew up with so many opportunities that my neighbours, classmates and friends did not get, because they didn’t have an entire pale family waiting for them each summer in southern Canada. And the division was obvious. My family is not well-off. I grew up knowing this, I always noticed the difference between my home and the homes of my white friends. If we had grown up anywhere else in Canada, I know that we’d be considered poor; there were times when my father had no work and my mother was a student who constantly had to travel and I never had the piles upon piles of Christmas gifts under the new, fresh trees that were always so much bigger and brighter than our own. But in Nunavut? Well, I’m one of the luckiest Inuit around. I have a home that isn’t filled with my entire extended family. I have food on the table, expensive and old, but food. That’s a lot more than can be said for other Nunavummiut. Canada has the highest rates of poverty in any developed country. How many southern Canadians know this? Not many. In fact, there’s an entire history that I’m constantly finding myself explaining, every time I meet new people, Canadian, American, or International.

I guess that’s one of the reasons I find myself both so excited but also so very terrified about going on this boat. Because to me, Canada is something which has hurt my family so much. As a students studying in America, I find myself distancing myself from our great country so much. Everyone always says to me, “wow Canada seems so cool, everyone is so nice, your Prime Minister is so gorgeous” and I get so angry, so frustrated because to the entire world, this seems true. But it isn’t, at least, not always.  So, I want to break down a quick bit of truth when it comes to what Canada is to me.

Canada is a mother who, along with countless cousins and friends, suffers from PTSD, Depression, Anxiety and Alcoholism because of residential schools and no mental health resources. Canada is cousins who have never seen trees because travel prices are so expensive that they will never leave Nunavut. Canada is volunteering at the Soup Kitchen and seeing familiar faces, thin and cold.

Canada is hunting – caribou, seal, ptarmigan. Canada is being called savage for relying on these traditional ways of life to sustain us. Canada is one of the places where Inuit have thrived for years, inventing igloos, kayaks and many other creative ways to survive. Canada is suicide rates that impact every single one of my friends. Canada is where, every winter, there are community games in the nearest hall big enough to host, bringing together generations of people for nights of fun. Canada is the murder of my cousin and her young daughters, because our Women’s Shelter was too full to take them in when she tried to leave her abusive partner.
Nunavut doesn’t have the resources needed to take care of a population that has been largely hurt by our government, church and society. Every single person in Nunavut, every Inuk, has faced racism, has faced abusive behaviour, has faced internal struggles. Because we were given our land (sort of) and not much else.

Where is the medical support? There are elders who have died because of strokes, of cancer, that southern nurses deemed as alcoholism, never mind the fact that these elders did not drink.

There are babies who died because they were turned away from the health centre when the nurses didn’t feel like dealing with them, forget proper protocol.

There are kids my age, younger, older, who will never see tomorrow because they didn’t see a future for themselves in this cycle of hurt and anger and isolation.

This is why, when someone calls me Canadian, I get so angry. “I’m from Nunavut.” I distance myself from the country stolen from my ancestors.

So, maybe decided to represent Canada seems weird. But, who better to represent a country than someone who has lived through the goods as well as the bads?

Because, there are goods too. I promise, I may be bitter but I can acknowledge the amazing opportunities I have been given, as a Canadian. I have been able to travel the world because my small town, a close community, bands together to raise money so high school kids get a chance to travel. Europe, Asia, Egypt, The Pacific – These are some of the places my high school has travelled.

I have been able to look up to some amazing indigenous leaders, ranging from Marius Tungilik, my cousin, who was a leader in creating a home for Inuit, who spoke out about his mental illness and his scars from abuse in residential school, to Carey Price, the Goalie for the Montreal Canadiens who came from a small rez in British Columbia and makes sure to give back to his home, bringing young kids to play hockey with him.

I have been able to grow up in one of the most gorgeous, unique landscapes that the world has left mostly untouched.

I know the stories, the legends of the land that keep us safe from harm, the creativity and humour of Inuit Culture. The sense of total connection, responsibility of family. So many people take family for granted, or don’t see their family often enough – I’m lucky because I get to be a part, a huge part, of my younger cousins’ lives. I can feel at home in whatever Nunavut community I go to because I do have a home, as long as there is family or friends, I will always be welcome.

I get to call Iqaluit home – a place that needs a lot of help, but also brings a lot forward. Feasts of freshly caught meat for the entire community. Amazing festivals in the spring and summer to celebrate the different voices, artworks, of other Nunavummiut. Music and art that have been passed down through generations of oral history. The knowledge of how to sew, how to make sure that the furs we use to keep warm are treated properly and made with love but also dedication to keep everyone safe in the harsh climate.

So, to me, Canada is… Canada is learning how to love with every part of my being, learning to accept all sides, and to learn from all perspectives.

Killaq Shayna Enuaraq-Strauss
SWY 29 Participant 

SWY 29 take on the holidays!

In exactly one week, the Canadian delegation will be stepping onto Japanese soil.

For the last few months, the twelve youth have been meeting online weekly to sort out logistics, familiarize themselves with the SWY program, and plan out how they will represent Canada with honesty and pride. Initially being split into committees, they are now wrapping up the loose ends of their projects.

Whether it be designing business cards, picking out the national costume, acquiring sponsorships or planning out the national party and presentation, each individual has played an important role and are ready for the final stretch of training this Thursday in Toronto.

With such a diverse group of individuals, each one celebrated the holidays in their own unique ways, surrounded by family and friends. To showcase this, we collected pictures from a few participating youth and asked them how they are preparing for the weeks ahead.

Stephanie Shyluk: I’m making sure home is settled and the dog has an occasional person to come take her. Making sure my partner doesn’t stress out over having the house alone for 2 months with snow shoveling, dog walking, and me not cooking. A few years ago I left Leesa and our bunny for 6 weeks in the summer and I came home to a Homer and Mojo situation. I can’t imagine what they will get up to if winter is horrible, and the dog, she’s as lazy as them both! I’ve also been prepping myself. The social and emotional side of joining programs like this shouldn’t be ignored. I need to prepare myself for all the intense interactions, the reduction of alone time, and keeping my bubbly, happy personality cared for, so evil Stephanie doesn’t come out 😛



Kevin Kobayashi:  Ensuring the Japanese Community in Toronto are feeling well represented. We are a very tight knit group here and I want to ensure that everyone can experience SWY29 vicariously through our special delegation. This has and always will be a big priority for me. Also, ensuring our delegation is well-prepared. We have such an incredible opportunity to make a positive impact on this journey and showcase the amazing country, that is Canada. We can do this, team! Two months is not a long time. We have to ensure that every moment is met with gusto, presence, and reason. Live in the moments that we experience these next 4 weeks and every minute on this trip. In the blink of an eye, it will all be over!

Christmas time means our entire family is together. This was difficult when I lived overseas. The 16 of us from all over the country get together during December, as my Mom’s side is very close.


Henry Tsang: My christmas (which is also my birthday) this year was spent in Korea where I am working temporarily. Went to see the broadway musical Jekyll & Hyde which was on tour in Daegu, and ended the night with a little “secret santa” xmas party at my apartment. There was a lot to do to wrap up the year, including final exam week, Christmas dinner/parties, packing to go back to Canada and now packing for SWY. I’m just taking it day-by-day. Two months is the longest “vacation” I’ve ever taken, and I worry if my job will still be here after the program, and coming back to my email inbox with 10,000 emails. But I’m sure it’s all worth it right… as we are all in the same boat (literally…).

Gabrielle Tremblay: I am a winter lover and this winter is just fantastic, we are lucky to have a lot a beautiful snow! During the holiday, I wanted to enjoy every pleasure that winter has to offer before going away, so I went for ski, cross-country ski, racket in the woods! I also enjoyed delicious food, winter spa and fire woods in a cabin with my friends and family before going away for few weeks.

Tefa Borja: Holidays = family! I hang out with my family a lot. On Christmas Eve, we have our big turkey dinner, and during Christmas day we just hang out home, watch “how the grinch stole christmas”, order Chinese food and eat left over cheesecake from the night before.


Jennifer Whittaker: I’m excited! This group feel very solid even though I haven’t met any of you in person yet and I have a good feeling about this trip. I haven’t been to Japan in 6 years. It’s the longest time I’ve been away to date. I’m nervous about my level of Japanese even though I used to live there. I’m worried the city, trains and house I remember won’t feel the same. I’m hoping I can visit my family while in Tokyo without feeling like I’m rushing.

We don’t really have any Christmas traditions per se and we have a really small family! So every year, this is pretty much it, and honestly it’s pretty great not to have to worry about big extended family holiday get-togethers 🙂  Now that my brother lives in NS, he’s usually not back right on Christmas. When he does come back, my mom usually does a big sushi dinner!  Left to Right: Aynsley (brother’s wife), my mom, my brother Joey, me, my boyfriend, my dad and my sister Stephanie! The adorable dog who hates pictures is Jessie!





Ryme Lahcene: Spending time with my family is my number one priority. I’m also trying to live in the present as much as I can. I’m trying to get mentally ready for the experience, this without necessary setting any expectations. Which is quite hard as I’m often catching myself daydreaming about Japan and the journey ahead of us.
I’m often away for long periods of time so I guess we are all used to the distance but it’s still a bit sad to say goodbye even just for 3 months. The cold is also brutal but at least we have some s.u.n!!! As for the length of the trip 2 months almost feels a little bit short taking in consideration everything we will be experiencing and living. Like Jennifer said I also have a very good feeling about the team and what’s coming our way! I was lucky to be with my family for the past month, my parents live in Winnipeg and my brother and I are based in Vancouver. We hardly get to be all together so it was nice for a change to be reunited. With time you realise how precious those moments are, and even if we don’t celebrate the holidays my time in Winnipeg has been wonderful. My brother and I got to relax and get back to our old ways while spending quality time with the family. We still felt the holiday cheer and had a delicious christmas couscous on the 25th!


Killaq Shayna Enuaraq-Strauss: In order to prepare for this trip, I’ve been working hard to talk to people back home – I need their help a lot right now! As a Canadian delegate, there are responsibilities, like finding good gifts to represent you and Canada, and making sure to bring a lot of your own Canadian identity into things. This is cool and all, but I live in Florida for school, so trying to find Inuit art and suitable Canadian things? It’s been a bit of a struggle! So, right now my main focus in making sure that I try to keep as connected as possible to everyone back home who has been helping me, and making sure that things run smoothly, since I only just get back to Canada before we leave. I’ve packed 3 suitcases, 1 with things I will only need in Japan, one with things I need in Canada but will not need in Japan, and another with things that I will need leading up to, and during the trip. I’ve never been more organized (not that my suitcases are well-organized in the least) So, I spent most of my holidays doing that. I spent the break with my father and grandmother in Florida, where we lit the candles for Chanukkah, and we ate delicious food and saw many family friends, which was exactly what I needed before heading out on this journey of a lifetime!

Sareema Husain: While I don’t celebrate Christmas, my sisters birthday is on the 25th so we always do something festive. This year, we had a cute little tea party and went skiing afterwards. Right now, I’ve been preparing by buying and packaging lots of gifts, figuring out my school situation next year as I’m in the middle of changing programs and consoling my parents that everything will be okay even if I don’t contact them much on the trip as it’s mad pricey to make phone calls in the middle of the ocean. I have to admit, even for a social media nerd, I’m excited for the disconnect. I get more ideas when all the noise isn’t clogging me up.


Grappling with my Canadian identity

This is Part 1 in SWY 29’s Canadian Identity Series.

I and my friends featuring the Toronto skyline

I’ve never  thought twice about what it means to be Canadian until now. Being chosen as a national delegate for SWY means I have an important task of representing Canada on an international stage along with 11 other delegates. But in order to do that effectively, I first have to figure out what being a Canadian entails.

Being able to access most of the globalized worlds resources with ease, freedom from violence and war, having my rights respected  … it is only when I learn about atrocities happening elsewhere do I ever acknowledge my Canadian identity and the privilege that comes with it. At times, it feels the overflowing acceptance and diversity we loudly pride ourselves on having distracts us from the fact that we have made our homes on stolen land.

I am a first-generation Canadian that has been distanced from my culture. Sure, I attend the brown weddings and go to mosque (mostly just to give my parents some sort of peace) but I am still learning how to compassionately understand the ways of my South-Asian culture without deeming them as backwards. As a feminist who spends her free time advocating gender equality, it is hard not to feel defeated when I realize the gender roles my family expects me to adhere to. If I cannot change the minds in my household, how will I ever change the world?

But that’s the beauty of being Canadian. If I choose, I can eliminate my ignorance and gain understanding about my culture by attending a handful of events or joining school clubs despite being thousands of miles away from the motherland. I see my roots reflected back at me in the restaurant across my school, in the prayer mats that decorate my summer camps lunchroom during the holy month of Ramadan, and in the faces of strangers on my morning commute.

Haha…though I can’t completely disagree with that, I do believe there are many characteristics that are unique to Canada. The geography of our country parallels its people; they are both rich in diversity. From Newfoundland’s rocky coast to the vastness of the Prairies to the sandy beaches of B.C., we don’t have to travel very far for a change of scenery.

When I was hitchhiking this past summer, I suddenly became acutely aware of my Canadian-ness. When making conversation with other tourists, we connected over BC’s Tofino surfer culture, sustainability and how good looking Justin Trudeau is. We talked about activism in Toronto, where multiculturalism is ever valued, where we celebrate Pride and Caribana in the same week. Foreigners welcomed us with open arms when we told them of our Canadian roots and it reinforced my belief that Canadians are people who exude a warmth and friendless that puts people at ease.

From singing “O Canada”, to exercising tolerance and celebrating diversity, the medical system, environmental laws, Tim Hortons, the Toronto Star; my definition of what it means to be Canadian is becoming larger yet more clear the older I get and I’m proud to have come from such balanced roots as I descend into the adventure that is SWY 29.

Sareema Husain
SWY 29 Participant