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Haida Gwaii students part of Olympic Torch Relay

HAIDA GWAII Three Northwest Community College (NWCC) students shared in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in November as they were part of a unique leg of the Olympic Torch Relay off of Haida Gwaii. On the relays fifth day, the Olympic torch was brought to Haida Gwaii and the Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay in Skidegate, home to one of three NWCC campuses on the islands. The torch arrived by water, carried by Elder Percy Williams in the Lootaas Wave Eater a 15-metre Haida canoe carved by the Bill Reid and apprentices. The paddling team included Denise Russ, Brent Daschuck and George Smith, three Essential Skills for Work (ESWK) students. Andy Wilson, who works with the ESWK Program in Skidegate teaching students how to make paddles and bentwood boxes, was the sterns man in the canoe. This was a very special event to be a part of an honour, said Ruth Wheadon, NWCCs Haida Gwaii Campus Manager. For three of our ESWK students to paddle in the Lootaas with the Olympic Torch being held by Elder Percy Williams, surrounded by fellow paddlers and to be welcomed to the beach by Haida Song and a large crowd, in front of an amazing building of both traditional and contemporary architectural design would have instilled an amazing sense of pride. Wheadon adds the experience can teach students that anything is possible and it builds their self-esteem. The ESWK program is a community-based program that integrates employment exploration and preparation skills with personal self-investigation and development with a strong cultural component. Showing up and participating can provide great benefits and when one contributes, both students and the community flourish and celebrate, Wheadon added. This was an experience the participants can carry with them into the future. The paddling group also comprised the President of Council of the Haida Nation Guujaaw, Skidegate Band Councilors, staff from the Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay, staff from Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, and a Skidegate entrepreneur. The Olympic Torch Relay is 106 days long and it will pass through 1,000 Canadian communities before the Olympic Cauldron is lit in Vancouver on Feb. 12, 2010.

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