Students in Hay River now don’t have far to go for a culture camp.
It’s just a short walk away at the back of Harry Camsell School.
The new culture camp, which as yet doesn’t have an official name, was the brainchild of Shirley Lamalice, the Dene Yatie-culture teacher at Princess Alexandra School.
“It comes along with doing the language and culture, and in order to do the language and culture you should do different activities with the students,” she said.
Lamalice said the culture camp was set up with the support of the South Slave Divisional Education Council, retired assistant superintendent Brent Kaulback and Carolyn Carroll, the principal of both Princess Alexandra School and Harry Camsell School.
Those two schools, along with Diamond Jenness Secondary School, played various roles in setting up the culture camp.
“Diamond Jenness already had the tipi, so we just had to set it up. They had the prospector tent. So we set that up,” said Lamalice. “We just build the tables and chairs and the benches and the fire pit.”
The area of the culture camp behind Harry Camsell School was fenced in and set up in June.
“It was a natural setting and it’s in the vicinity of the school, just walking distance,” said Lamalice.
Before the new culture camp was built, students had to be taken by bus to Sandy Creek, which involved extra cost and meant getting written permission from parents and guardians.
Lamalice said the learning at the culture camp depends on what teachers want to do.
“So it could be any subject or any activity probably if they want to utilize it,” she said. “So it’s open to that. It’s just to sit out by the campfire and if you’re doing language or any type of activity and you have community resource people also talking with them and teaching them.”
Those community resource people – meaning elders and others – teach students various traditional skills.
“We do bannock on a stick,” said Lamalice. “We do stories. We do moose and goose calling. We do filleting fish, dry fish making. Hopefully, I would like to do a moose hide tanning project next year when we get a hide.”
There’s also bow and arrow, and hand games and other traditional games.
“We’re getting some things made for our outdoor winter activities,” Lamalice noted. “We have a culture day in March.”
The reaction of the students to the culture camp has been very positive.
“They love it,” said Lamalice. “They always ask to go outdoors now.”
On Oct. 4, a Grade 6 French class from Princess Alexandra School was at the culture camp.
“I just like being able to come out here and be able to cook bannock and do all that stuff, and learn about outside,” said student Lainey McPhee.
And student Ava Pokiak also thinks the culture camp is really fun.
“We get to make bannock and do culture stuff and play,” she said.
On Oct. 4, George Bugghins was showing the students how to cut up and dry fish.
“We teach them about culture and doing activities like outdoor events,” he said. “We have all that here.”
Bugghins said he can also show students how to set up a tent, and how to set and maintain a camp.
“For a lot of them, it’s their roots,” he said. “But lots of them they don’t know stuff like this. So they’re really eager to learn.”
Elder Margaret Eleeze was showing the students how to make bannock on a stick.
“The kids like bannock on a stick,” she said.” Sometimes they go for seconds if I have enough.”
Carroll said the camp benefits students by teaching about culture in an environment that is a natural setting outside of the classroom.
“It’s a lovely forested area with authentic drying racks and a fire pit, and a trapper’s tent and a tipi,” said the principal.
Carroll noted one of the objectives is to offer the knowledge and wisdom of elders to students.
“The elders really enjoy coming into the culture camp area and telling their stories and doing their teachings,” she said.
Lamalice believes the culture camp is serving its intended purpose, noting, “It’s nice to have culture involved in school activities.”