Though Omar Akhtar is of an indigenous population from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean — the Sami people of Norway — he sees many parallels between the indigenous people of Canada.
"I think they have had the same struggles," Akhtar said.
"For example, the federal government stealing their lands, and the indigenous people of Norway have had a lot of problems with alcohol just like the aboriginal people here in Canada... we've seen the same struggles as indigenous peoples all over the world."
Akhtar — an exchange student at Pemberton Secondary School — said one of the main reasons he came to Canada was to learn more about Canadian aboriginal culture.
"I have learned a lot of things, and I'm grateful that I have had the opportunity to do so," he said.
On Friday, May 1, Akhtar was one of 60 aboriginal students in the Sea to Sky corridor taking part in a wider awareness movement — the 24 Hour Drum.
"It was created in order to raise awareness about being aboriginal today for our youth, and to empower youth to share their learning about who they are and where they're from," said Susan Leslie, district principal of aboriginal education with the Sea to Sky School District.
Beginning at Howe Sound Secondary School in Squamish at 9:15 a.m., the 24 Hour Drum took the students up the Sea to Sky corridor for a full of day of songs, poetry and storytelling.
"They chose two issues that came to the surface that they wanted to raise awareness about," Leslie said.
"The first one was what it's like to be aboriginal today and what it's like learning in our schools today as an aboriginal youth, and the second was the missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada."
By the end of the day the students had presented at four schools in the corridor.
During their stop at Whistler Secondary School (WSS), students sang traditional songs, read slam poetry and reenacted a First Nations creation story.
"The messages come from their experiences, and from their learning about the issues," Leslie said.
"As this is a leadership group, students have brought issues forward and researched them and shared with others, and based on the impact of those issues, they decided to raise their voice and speak out."
While part of the event was to raise funds for non-profit organization Walking With Our Sisters, Leslie said the main goal was to raise awareness around aboriginal issues.
"It's a huge risk for youth to stand up in front of their peers and say such personal, heartfelt stories about their lives," she said.
"The students chose the spoken word as the vehicle to share their voice and their issues to raise awareness."
WSS principal Nolan Cox said he thought his students were fortunate to be able to take in the presentation.
"I think it's important to recognize that we are on Squamish and Lil'wat territory, that our aboriginal cultures, our aboriginal students, do have different challenges than our non-aboriginal students," he said.
"It takes a lot to come out and stand up in front of a crowd and do that kind of thing, so I think they should be very proud of what they did today, and will continue to do, as they make positive changes in the future."
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