FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOURS: Reunited after 25 years

By on August 2, 2017
Barney Stirling (left) and Oscar Caniulaf. (Cole Wagner/Herald)


They were young men the last time they met.

A quarter of a century later, and the lives of Barney Stirling and Oscar Caniulaf are hardly recognizable, with changes brought on by the usual side-affects of growing-up: having a family, earning a living and finding your way in the world.

Twenty-seven years ago, Stirling travelled to Chile with an indigenous exchange program organized in part through the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology. A member of the Coldwater band, Stirling was one of a number of young people from across B.C. to participate in the exchange, which would see the Canadians spend two months in Chile, before their counterparts did the same in Canada.

It was 1990 in Chile when Caniulaf first met the then-24-year-old Stirling. Striking up an immediate friendship, it would be two years before Caniulaf himself would participate in the exchange, coming to Canada as a wide-eyed 21-year-old in 1992.

Caniulaf (left) and Stirling in 1990. (Photo courtesy of Barney Stirling).

If the exchanges were aimed at promoting better understanding and friendship between First Nations in Canada and the Mapuche people in Chile — indigenous peoples themselves — then Stirling and Caniulaf are shining examples of the success of the exchange.

Twenty-five years after coming to B.C. on the program, Caniulaf has returned to spend time with Stirling and retrace his steps across Canada’s west coast.

“I was excited to see him again. It’s been a long time,” said Stirling.

The men remember different things about Caniulaf’s visit to Merritt and the Nicola Valley. Caniulaf vividly remembers sitting in a sweat lodge, and jumping into the river to cool off. Stirling remembers a particularly arduous journey home from town, which saw both men walk from Merritt all the way to the Coldwater reserve where the visitors were staying at the time.

Learning about Canada’s residential school system and the nation’s history of persecution of indigenous people, Caniulaf said he saw many similarities with the way the Chilean government has dealt with the legacy of colonialism.

Lessons learned on the exchange have also translated into improved living for some of the Mapuche people in Chile, reported Caniulaf. Following the experience of the exchange, one of Caniulaf’s acquaintances established a Mapuche health centre in Santiago, Chile.

“This is one of the first health care places in Chile for native people,” said Caniulaf. “I think this is one of the results of our exchange.”

Caniulaf plans to spend a week in Merritt, giving him plenty of time to catch up with Stirling (and convince him it’s time for a return visit to Chile).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *