Indigenous Youth Overseas Study Tour: Connecting, Igniting and Impacting Lives with Love
In its third year, the Indigenous Youth Overseas Study Tour is jointly organized by Vox Nativa Taiwan (VNT) and The Alliance Cultural Foundation (ACF), and supported by Wisdom Culture and Education Organization. Five indigenous undergraduates and two teachers were selected for this year’s exchange, forming the team, Luma Native Taiwanese, as ‘luma’ means home in all three languages for the tribes which team members originate from, the Amis, Bunun and Paiwan.
The VNT choir had performed at the National United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) Annual Conference in 2013, and Executive Director Mary Kim Titla led a team of American indigenous youths to visit Taiwan. Driven by the vision of a long-term exchange partnership between American and Taiwanese indigenous youths, Mr. Herdaw Che, a passionate American-Taiwanese community leader and long-term volunteer of VNT, decided to engage ACF as the choice partner in realizing the exchange.
The holistic curriculum of the study tour culminated in a successful hour-long showcase at the National UNITY Conference, where the team shared on Taiwan, its sixteen indigenous tribes and themselves. The audience comprised 2000 youth representing over a hundred tribal groups in the United States gathered for the conference, which opened with the First Lady and Cabinet officials speaking on indigenous youth development. Featuring ceremonies, customs and songs of their own tribes in the showcase, the team also invited the audience especially in call-and-response songs. The team’s rendition of Kulumaha, which means to return home in the Bunun language, was a fitting finale, with the audience rising and singing in unison.
The team underwent intensive teambuilding and preparation before the month-long study tour from 29 June to 28 July. Taiwan’s LIMA Indigenous Youth group was invited to conduct workshops on land, health, education, cultural action and practice and other salient indigenous issues. Of which, Teacher Ali found the legal workshop conducted by Ling Wanzhen enlightening on developing critical thinking skills. Other trainers such as Taiwan’s first indigenous female scientist Hua Kuoyuan and Wisdom’s executive director Lai Meizhi were instrumental in teaching soft skills such as making introductions and applying humor in different social contexts.
Each year, the study tour aims to broaden horizons and also refine perceptions for participants, exposing them to varied sites and experiences. This year, the team visited University of Denver, Red Cloud Indian School, Stanford and Berkeley, as well as the Plug and Play Tech Center in Silicon Valley, monuments of Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Jewel Cave and Scotts Bluff, and artistic venues such as the Cherry Creek Art Festival, Indian Art in Pine Ridge and the Denver Art Museum. They were also exposed to activities related to music, ecology, religion, sports, philanthropy and government.
The team is also grateful towards supportive host families during their stay in the United States, who are impressed with the team’s humility, keen observation and willingness to learn. Hosted by four American families in Denver, and three Taiwanese families in the Bay Area and also on a ranch, the team met accomplished individuals who are glad to stay in touch and mentor them.
When the team asked Mr. Che what is it that inspired the volunteers and supporters to be on board this project and benefit strangers, he replied it is their desire to give and educate through love and service. He elaborated on his hopes for the team to assist in future runs of the project, join in forming UNITY in Taiwan, collaborating with LIMA, MATA Taiwan and other projects, moving towards the common vision of combining the strength and power of Taiwan indigenous groups.
During the 20 August sharing session back in Taiwan, Chairmen Yen reminded the team to have vision and passion in their lives, to serve in roles which connect, persuade and demonstrate, acting between their tribes, villages and external parties in taking ownership and creating better futures.
One of the team members, Avu, said that her journey with the Indigenous Youth Oversea Study Tour has been self-defining. Iyong, a participating teacher, was particularly heartened by the sight of torch lighting at the Conference, for fire is symbolic, as with land and ancestral connections. Ival shared that the team comes together to bloom as one, each doing their part to realize a common vision.