Westdale and Westmount Indigenous Cultural Exchange

Last updated on Friday, June 30, 2017

Thomas (Sakokwenionkwas “The One Who Wins”) Porter – Guest Speaker at the Indigenous Wellness Symposium

When: The exchanges took place April 2-8 and May 12, 2017

Target Age/Grades: 9-12


1.Start healthy conversations for teens around mental health, stigma and suicide prevention.

2.Promote a sense of belonging and peer mentorship amongst Aboriginal youth in Hamilton and Ucluelet, British Columbia.

3. Provide accessible resources for teens and families and specifically.


This cultural exchange was sponsored by YMCA Canada, with financial support from HWDSB Foundation, Hamilton Community Foundation, Rotary AM and Jay’s Care Program.  In total 21 students ages 14-18 from Westdale and Westmount Secondary Schools travelled to Tofino/Uceluelet, British Columbia from April 2-8, 2017 to learn about Indigenous culture on the West Coast.

This weeklong visit included staying at a former residential school site, teachings on land stewardship, and reclaimed cultural practices.

From May 7-14, 2017 youth from Ucleulet/Tofino travelled to Hamilton where they were able to participate in a variety of urban activities.

These included a trip to Landscape of Nations at Queenston heights, cultural competency evening at the Fort Erie Friendship Centre, tours of McMaster University and Mohawk College, a private box at a Blue Jay’s Game, a day at Six Nations and the finale of the Indigenous Mental Health Symposium at Westdale Secondary school, with Elder Tom Porter.


On May 12, 2017 students and staff from across HWDSB were invited to attend a keynote presentation and 3 workshops hosted by the Indigenous Student Association of Westdale.  The symposium could not have been made possible without the support of the Suicide Prevention Community Council of Hamilton.

The participants had the honour of listening to guest speaker Thomas (Sakokwenionkwas “The One Who Wins”) Porter.  Mr. Porter is the founder, spokesperson and spiritual leader of the Mohawk Community of Kanatsiohareke (Ga na jo ha lay gay) located in the Mohawk Valley near Fonda, New York since 1993.  The following workshops were offered:

Traditional medicines and teaching behind smudging and the Medicine Wheel, Wellness and cooking from the De Dwa da dehs nye (Hamilton Aboriginal Health Centre) and the teaching and making of dream catchers.

Feedback from students that participated in this exchange included the appreciation to form support networks for Indigenous youth from across Canada, as well as the opportunity for exchange of cultural practices and traditional teachings.  Students participated in a variety of social media platforms and every interaction was positive and the end result being positive peer mentors going forward for other Indigenous youth in each community.

Finally, this initiative has been the launching platform for the Aboriginal Student Unions at Westdale and Westmount secondary school, following student feedback that the Aboriginal communities at each site were underrepresented.


  • As a result of this initiative, 21 students newly identified as Indigenous.
  • Students are making connections with caring adults and peers.
  • Students were involved in the planning and organizing of all aspects of this cultural exchange. We watched as several non-leaders stepped into leadership roles.  This project is truly a shared development project that will continue throughout this school year and hopefully create ongoing partnerships within the local community.
  • Students and staff learned about local opportunities for students and families.
  • Students have shown pride for their culture and traditions and taken part in education others about the history of Indigenous people.

For more information contact:

Kleri Venizelos kvenizel@hwdsb.on.ca

Jennifer Petrossi Currie jcurrie@hwdsb.on.ca



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