Keanu Johnson and Keetah McBeath were among a contingent who travelled down to New Zealand as part of a Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre cultural exchange earlier this year. (KARL YU/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo contingent learns about Maori during cultural exchange to New Zealand

Travellers from Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre went on Paddling Beyond trip in January

Travellers with Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre embarked on a trip of a lifetime, flying across the many kilometres and time zones between Vancouver Island and New Zealand.

Keanu Johnson, a youth, and Keetah McBeath, a chaperone, were among the Paddling Beyond cultural exchange contingent that travelled Jan. 20-Feb. 1, with the goal of developing leadership skills and connecting with a different culture. The group was hosted by New Zealand’s indigenous peoples, the Maori, and had a chance to learn about local customs.

“Their maraes are similar to our big houses,” said Johnson.

“It was cool to see the different carvings, the shapes and symbols,” said McBeath. “The similarities there were neat.”

McBeath said the aboriginal centre group visited its first marae a mere 27 hours after leaving Nanaimo Airport and just like Canadian First Nations, there was protocol or formal cultural greetings.

“All the males had to sit in the front row and we all sat in the back row,” said McBeath. “They did a protocol all in their language, which was amazing, and then we went through all of our protocol as well.”

RELATED: Youths to learn Maori ways, share First Nations culture

In terms of favourite memories, Johnson and McBeath said it was the relationship-building with the Maori.

“I’d have to say the first marae, (there was a woman) she greeted us so lovingly and we called her ‘auntie.’ I think the first marae was the best,” said Johnson.

“The first marae, having their elders stay with us,” said McBeath. “Their elders actually spent the night with us in the marae and just having that connection with calling them ‘aunties’ and our cook was an ‘auntie’ and just spending time with them and spending our first nights together in the Maori culture was the first memory that we’ll all remember getting to that beautiful island on Waiheke Island.”

The group also visited the area where the original Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed. Johnson said he enjoyed it, but confessed to not having seen the movies, but McBeath admitted to being a die-hard fan.

“I”m a Lord of the Rings nerd … I was more giddy than most of the kids at the gift shop and it was pretty sweet to walk around the movie set and be together in all of our photos,” said McBeath. “We’d all been together for quite some time, because that was towards the end of our trip, so it was a pretty good, exciting, touristy thing to do.”

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