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Camp on-the-land shares Anishinaabe teachings (33 photos)

On-the-land Anishinaabe Summer Transition Camp offers opportunities to explore and discover culture

This summer Algoma District School Board (ADSB) has partnered up with Great Lakes Cultural Camps (GLCC) to deliver a summer program to Indigenous youth who are in transition from grade 8 to high school locally.

"Niibing - Enakamigisyang (Things We Do In Summer) is a three-week on-the-land Anishinaabe Summer Transition Camp developed and facilitated by Great Lakes Cultural Camps where Algoma District School Board Indigenous high school students transitioning from grade 8 to grade 9 in September 2021 have an opportunity to explore and strengthen Anishinaabe identity through cultural place-based education and receive a high school credit upon completion of the course," said Maheengun Shawanda, Director & Founder, GLCC.

"The course is designed to spark curiosity, inspire and empower students to connect to the land, nurture spirituality and values of the Anishinaabeg, opportunities to speak and learn Anishinaabemowin, explore sacred and historical spaces, discover ancestral food systems, introduce paddle sports and water safety, kendaasowin (learning) on the land and create awareness of environmental stewardship opportunities with direct involvement in the Great Lakes," Shawanda added.

The camp was held July 5 through July 23, 2021, Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. at Ojibway Park in Garden River First Nation, Ontario under the guidance of Ontario’s Ministry of Health - COVID-19 Safety Guidelines for Day Camps, Garden River Wellness Centre and Algoma Public Health Shawanda explained.

Simultaneously a virtual program ran for those students who were not eligible or able to participate in in-person learning.

Not only does the ADSB Indigenous Student Transition Summer Program involve GLCC staff but also includes an ADSB summer school teacher, Indigenous Graduation Coaches and other ADSB support staff who were on-site throughout the duration of the program.

In the past ADSB has worked with GLCC to bring day-camps to students throughout the year but never in the summer.

After COVID left students facing virtual learning several times and the added isolation from their peers over most of 2020 and half of 2021, this program was drafted to allow students to reconnect with their peers in an in-person face-to-face setting, to reconnect with their cultural land-based learning, to reconnect with themselves to build self-confidence and resiliency and to assure those Indigenous students are aware of and become familiar with the supports and staff available to them at the high school they will attend in September.

Upon completion of the three-week program an ADSB teacher, who works alongside the students and GLCC assigns a mark towards a high school credit for each student based on their performance throughout the three weeks of their program.

Joseph Maurice, Superintendent – Well-Being & Indigenous Education with the board explains. 

The Ministry of Education approached our Board with funding to support a summer transition program. 

When we met with Indigenous partners, they gave high priority to a face-to-face program that would get students away from their computer screens and devices. 

In addition, in the past, Indigenous partners and students have provided feedback on the need for more culturally based, land-based learning opportunities for Indigenous students. 

Student feedback from previous day-camps with Great Lakes Cultural Camps has been very positive so we saw this as an opportunity to plan something really exciting and positive for Indigenous students.

In total, 20 students enrolled in this session. For them to be eligible, they must have identified as either First Nation, Métis or Inuit and must be in grade 8 going into grade 9. Priority was given to students entering into ADSB high schools this September.

Ojibway Park is steeped in both natural and cultural history which along with its location and accessibility made it a relevant location for hosting this summer camp.

The Anishinabek Nation and people consist of Ojibway, Odawa and Pottawatomi who together make up the Three Fires Confederacy which, in 2007, was hosted on this very site.

Students left offerings at a unity pole that was erected during the 2007 gathering. They also participated in a plethora of seasonal-specific cultural activities ranging from sedentary and hands-on to athletic all while learning their history and its significance. The fast pace meant little downtime so facilitators could provide the greatest cross-section of content exposure.

Participating alongside them were Joseph Maurice - ADSB Superintendent Well Being & Indigenous Education, Joel M. Syrette - (Animikii-bineshiinhs) ADSB Indigenous Education Lead, Colin Mclean - ADSB Teacher in addition to GLCC Educators who worked towards building supportive and team building relationships.

During the three weeks of the program, several guest speakers, all hand-picked to provide a wide range of information and supports for the students, visited the camp.

There were visits from White Pines staff who presented a welcome to high school and the Wolverines Family; Chief Andy Rickard who spoke on leadership, education and the importance of youth led and based initiatives for community well being;  Brent Fryia from Steel City MMA & Jiujitsu who spoke on the importance of fitness and basic self defence; the Garden River First Nations Health & Wellness team spoke about the importance of protecting our health and provided COVID screening; Jess Bolduc - Executive Director of the 4R Youth Movement - engaged the students in a conversation centering around respect, reciprocity, reconciliation and relevance in order that they better understand the fractured reality in which they live, strike up those critical conversations and become stronger in themselves, to one another, build connections with each other and to the land and continue to make change in their communities; Sam Manitowabi who spoke on the importance and significance of the Robinson Huron Treaty; Meggie and Cade from the Garden River First Nation Lands & Resources Department who spoke on the Water Rangers Program and the water monitoring initiatives happening within the community; and to the countless others who stopped by to share along the way.

Interwoven amongst the program were several outdoor activities ranging from dry land kayak and canoe training highlighting essential gear, proper clothing, essential day trip items, Transport Canada regulations, canoe design and construction, lifts and carries, safe canoeing procedures in addition to the physicality of paddling.

There were several games introduced that were historically practiced and played by the Anishinaabeg.

The importance of learning through play

Bagadowe (the forefather of our lacrosse) played an important role. It was introduced with a specific set of instructions on the play. Each team played with a stick about 2.5 to 3 feet in length with a small head at one end.

The ball was made of buckskin stuffed with sand and deer hair or just of wood.

In times of conflict or disagreements, the game would be played to solve the differences and could have carried on for days before a team scored. The game drew from mental, physical and emotional well-being and still plays an important role in Anishnaabe aadziwin (the way one lives or carries on in life) and brings good teachings.

The students were introduced to this traditionally male game in addition to Double Ball a traditionally female game as well as several others to learn respect, strategy planning and team-building skills. They also studied the physics of the anit-paginaatig (the atlatl or spear thrower).

Permaculture, planting and community gardens

Learning by doing is a huge part of understanding and keeping the culture alive and students did some vegetable planting while they discussed permaculture and the importance and benefit of family and community gardens.

They made jams after harvesting berries from the land and shared the fruits of their labours with guest speakers and friends.

They also came to better understand kinship and how it differs from western culture, stewardship of the land – leaving the land better than we found it, the value of community service – all of which brings them closer to their roots.

Regalia, drumming and dance

Other ways students were able to make connections to their ancestry and traditional art forms was by learning to sew and work with deerskin hide while they made moccasins. 

They talked about material culture and the significance of designs in their art and history and even weaving baskets as they harvested and prepared their materials from the live black ash tree.

They discussed Woodland Dancing and other styles while learning the history and designs of the traditional clothing and Mishomis Dewaygun (Grandfather Drum) visited to share the importance of Anishinaabemowin, drumming, singing and teachings of the Anishinaabeg

Who attended and what are they interested in

In surveying a small cross-section of the students I was able to determine most had no idea yet the path they would like to take post-secondary in fact the consensus was that they wanted to explore all their opportunities but there was a clear emphasis on finishing high school and receiving a diploma.

A couple of the students said they thought they would be interested in Social Work of some sort.

Most high schools were represented in the group and some students said they chose the program because they were excited about earning a credit while learning on the land and were tired of being indoors and learning from home.

Students particularly liked the things they learned on the land – canoes and the paddling preparation and basket weaving. They also liked the small size of the camp and learning about culture and the teachings.

Although most have been exposed to some of the things covered during the camp at some point in their young lives to some small degree they were surprised by the depth of coverage and learned more than they expected in the beginning and have a healthy dose of wanting more.

Overall there were good summer vibes and it is very clear this summer camp was successful for all involved and a benefit to the community and students for which it was designed. One can hope that we make these camps more prevalent and a viable alternative for our youth.

You can view a video about GLCC here.

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About the Author: Violet Aubertin

Violet Aubertin is a photograher and writer with an interest in Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma's great outdoors
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