A Fine Balance?

A red blanket is draped over Ken Rinka while he jumps as high as he can. He is performing a traditional dance of his Masai culture, whoever can jump the highest gets the girl he says. Rinka is 23 years of age and he does this mainly to impress tourists who come on safari in the Masai Mara in Kenya. He says his village is a place where tourists can see a traditional way of Masai life. They pay a fee of about 25 Canadian dollars and can walk around the village interacting with the people who live there. The Masai have kept their traditional lifestyles – living like their ancestors have been doing for thousands of years. This is contrary to most other Kenyan tribes, who have adapted to more western lifestyles. But that soon could change here too.

Rinka is just one of the hosts to tourists in this village and does it as a part time job, he says he doesn’t normally dress in traditional clothing anymore. He wants to be a doctor and struggles on whether or not he even wants to stay in his village or live elsewhere.Leaving the community would be a big step and one he is not sure he is ready to take he says. But he does not agree with all of the traditional ways of the Masai.

“They do polygamous marriage, he says. ” People don’t like that so much now, I am not sure I want to do that. Also, people are relying only on cattle for food and drink..I want to try different things.” Traditionally the Masai drink the blood and milk of cattle and eat the meat he further explains.

Chief Muli of the village says this lack of interest is no surprise to him – the majority of youth are no longer interested in the Masai way of life he says. He realizes this is natural to a certain extent, but worries about the culture eventually dying out completely. He hopes tourists who come to the Masai Mara keep visiting the village so interest remains in the culture. He also encourages young Masai to work as hosts to tourists and make some money by doing so. Currently the Masai are the biggest and most well known Indigenous group in Kenya and the Chief would like to keep it that way.

This struggle of balancing traditional values and a more modern lifestyle is happening all over the world with Indigenous cultures, including in Canada. Cynthia Wesley Esquimaux is a member of the Chippewa of Georgina Island First Nation in Ontario. She has taught Aboriginal studies at the University of Toronto.And she currently sits as the Nexen chair of Aboriginal Leadership.

Esquimaux says she is constantly seeing the identity struggle young Aboriginal people face, “The main reason is there has not been enough transmission of traditional knowledge to the youth,” she says. ” The hip hop culture is a good example of youth creating their own evolution of Aboriginal culture, and there are many youth who attend pow wow’s and ceremonial events with other communities, because their own do not practice traditional values and ceremony. ”

Like the Chief back in Kenya, Esquimaux says elders in Canada also try to engage young generations. “Well, elders are waking up spiritually and making the effort to speak to youth in a variety of venues, certainly going to schools is a good way of meeting them where they live, and helping with theatre and language acquisition,” she says. ” I make it possible for them to attend my classes when I am teaching at the University.”

There are actions being taken to recognize challenges like this that Indigenous groups face. Every year on August 9th people acknowledge the International Day of World’s Indigenous Peoples. Esquimaux is glad for this day as it gives people pride in their culture.

It was created by the United Nations in 1994 and also aims to recognize the rights of Indigenous people. According to the UN there are an estimated 370 million Indigenous people in some 70 countries around the world.

Esquimaux is hopeful Indigenous cultures in Canada and elsewhere can survive.

Back in the Masai Mara, Ken Rinka is also hopeful he and others will somehow be able to find a balance so that they can cherish their traditions but also move forward to develop new skills in a fast changing world.

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About Nina

Human rights issues have always been a passion of mine. And so has traveling, so it's no surprise that I incorporate that into my professional work. I'm currently working in Freetown, Sierra Leone with Journalists for Human Rights. This isn't my first time with JHR or in Freetown, in 2008 I had the opportunity to go and train local journalists. I worked with them on numerous human rights issues from child poverty to the role of the UN backed Special Court. The international court was set up to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for the country’s civil war. And I am thrilled to be back here to do more work with the local journalists. Prior to my second JHR stint, I worked for CBC in Canada's Northwest Territories. My reporting included Aboriginal issues, environment and politics. I've also filed for World Report, CBC Newsnetwork and The National. I've also reported for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network in Toronto where I covered major national stories such as the Ipperwash inquiry , the Caledonia land dispute and the impact of the residential school system on Canada's Aboriginal population. My journalism career started as an internship at CBS in Miami, Florida where I worked side by side with veteran reporters. I have a degree from Ryerson university in Journalism.

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