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Ashley Mathieu, a personal trainer and entrepreneur from Ottawa, spent a month immersed in the reality of Indigenous life in Canada as a cast member on APTN’s First Contact. The show debuts Tuesday at 7 p.m. (Mario Carlucci/CBC) At first, Ashley Mathieu thought it was a joke when a friend suggested she audition for a mysterious new reality show.

The gist of the show was top secret, but Mathieu decided to go for it anyway. During casting she was drilled with questions about politics, immigration and Indigenous people.

She made the cut, but it was only after she and five others were loaded onto a plane that they found out what the show was all about.

"I didn’t know what it was until I literally landed in Winnipeg," said Mathieu, 32, who describes herself as blunt and adventurous. "I was like, ‘Alright, let’s rock ‘n’ roll. I’m already here."

The show is First Contact , an APTN production hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos​.

Over the next month, she and her fellow cast members were flown all over the country, encountering Indigenous people on reserves, in remote corners of the North and in busy cities. The goal was to give Mathieu and the others a new perspective from which to confront their prejudices.

"School never really taught anything," Mathieu said. "A lot of people think [Indigenous people are] just alcoholics and they’re lazy and they’re just abusing taxpayers’ money." Eye-opening experience

Mathieu, who has overcome abuse and other hurdles, said she still believes it’s possible for people to improve their lives through sheer determination and hard work. But what she saw during production opened her eyes.

"There were moments when I had to stop and walk away. Like, this is not OK," she recalled. "No Canadian should live with dirty water. No Canadian should live in a house with mould. No Canadian should have to sleep outside their home." Participants on APTN’s First Contact get a feel for life in Canada’s Indigenous communities. (APTN) In a media release, the show’s executive producer, Vanessa Loewen, expressed her gratitude to the participants.

"It takes a lot of courage to immerse and expose oneself to an experience like this and we are blessed that the communities across Canada opened their doors to us. This raw and honest account will undoubtedly inspire empathy and awareness of Indigenous culture by Canadians coast-to-coast," Loewen said.

First Contact, hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos, debuts Sept. 11 at 7:00 p.m. on APTN

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