The idea of having a Youth and Elder camp was shared by many community members who wanted to see a mixing of both Traditional and Western Education and began with an introduction into the Experiential Learning Initiative (ELI) at Morton's Pint Youth Summer Camp in the summer of 2012. The ELI team, with support from Athabasca Delta Community School (ADCS), Sustainable Communities Initiative, Lake Athabasca Youth Council and Northlands School Division, have been working on having the first Youth and Elders Co-Teaching Camp in the Community of Fort Chipewyan.
With several meetings and community input, ELI's momentum continued in Fort Chipewyan when Elder Charlie Voyageur donated his trap line to the ELI Program for Athabasca Delta Community School and Mike Mercredi as the Junior Trap Line holder. In August of 2013, the ELI team flew out there by float plane with Elders Charlie Voyageur, late Louis Ladouceur, ADCS Principal Mike Flieger and ADCS staff Brian and West for a site assessment. Everyone was happy and impressed with the future co-teaching camp for ADCS. Louis and Charlie both shared memories and moments of days past, offering their time to help make this camp a success. Dates were set and more meetings scheduled.
In the fall of 2013, construction started with two tent frames built to hold a 14x16 canvas wall tent. Three community members and two youth from the ADCS flew out the trap line, along with tools, food, building supplies and the excitement of building a camp that will be used for many years to come. Many ideas and resources were gathered from community members, community organizations and other non-community organizations to assist in making this a camp that will endure the coming years. Two tent frames were constructed, an outhouse and a dock.
Winter 2014 began with cutting the trail to the trap line, and assistance was received from the local Canadian Rangers Patrol Unit. With the Canadian Military participating in our youth camp trail construction, we opened the door for other community organization to step into a new era of outdoor education. The trail blazing took several attempts because of the great distance, travelling to the site is an adventure all on its own.
In March 2013, the first Outdoor Education Co-Teaching Camp was completed, with Principal Mike Flieger, two land-users and three male high school students. The students put a lot of effort and time attending the camp, although it was only three days. The hours in a day were more like ten or more. The students experience travelling in winter by snowmobile and what can happen out there. They were taught to make and set rabbit snares, how to set a trap, use bait and where to place it. They were taught geography by learning about the different landscapes in the Canadian Shield Region, lakes, and creeks. They also learned how to make fires, and cook on a wood stove.
Camp Voyageur was used by the people of Fort Chipewyan for many decades for trapping, travelling and hunting. The area has not been used since 1988 by Elder Charlie Voyageur, who has a cabin just one lake over. With the introduction of the Experiential Learning Initiative, there is now an opportunity to pass on a millennia's worth of Traditional Knowledge, blended with today's teaching methods in a land-based co-teaching environment.
James Cardinal Jr. was one of the students who helped with camp construction in the fall of 2013 and attended the first winter camp in March 2014. In a statement, Cardinal comments that "Experiential Learning is a great experience for youth to go out in the bush and learn to hunt, trap, fish, basic survival skills and it is necessary to keep our culture alive by doing these things. Depending on the time of year, the things we do can vary - from cutting wood to shoveling snow, skinning, stretching and cleaning animal Pelts/Hides - so kids can actually learn how to do stuff like that. They can teach their children and their children's children how to do this. Even as the world becomes more modern with its technology and advances, we are to preserve and keep our cultures, heritages, beliefs and values alive - that is what I believe ELI is for."
Written and compiled by
Experiential Learning Community