The Arctic Indigenous Wellness Camp provided comfort and a place to gather last week for educators with Yellowknife Education District No. 1.
NNSL Media visited the location nestled near the shore of Kam Lake behind the Fieldhouse on Friday. The gathering was highlighted by a sacred feeding the fire ceremony led by William Greenland, urban land site coordinator. The wellness camp has been operating since April 2017.
The sacred fire feeding gives visitors the opportunity to burn tobacco and throw negative feelings and energy into the flames, while also praying to the Creator for guidance and help, Greenland told visitors.
The site allows people to get close to nature and away from the commotion of everyday life, he added.
Greenland said he was pleased with the participation over the week and found educators were responsive to the fire feeding ceremony in particular – in part because some seemed lonely.
“We have done this kind of thing before, but the situation we were in had to do with them being in self-isolation and not communicating and not seeing each other,” he said. “It was an opportunity for them to come together and check on each other and let each other know things are okay. I think they liked the idea of the fire feeding ceremony.”
Scott Willoughby, Indigenous education coordinator, was among 16 educators present. He agreed that the gathering allowed for teachers to get together and de-stress after being apart from students since mid-March.
“Some of the teachers in the district felt a little stressed and uneasy because of the school closures with Covid, and a lot of the teachers have been with no access to the schools,” Willoughby explained. “So we thought it would be good to find a way to get together. We’ve done it every day this week and had to break people up into groups.”
Teachers and staff have found it soothing to socialize and take walks in nature, Willoughby said.
Metro Huculak, superintendent of the school board, is about to retire from his position after 15 years with the board. He said it was important for staff to participate in the event.
“Staff have been meeting by teleconference (during the pandemic) but I think this brings benefits of mental wellness for staff because many of them are really missing the kids,” Huculak said.
Shirley Zouboules, a regional inclusive schooling co-ordinator, said more than 100 educators attended the camp to get together and de-stress.
“This (outdoor gatherings) is something that we do every year and that is just at the district (level), and individual schools will have outdoor get-togethers as well,” she said. “At the beginning of the year, we (the district) all go out to the Yellowknife River for a ceremony and we have a gathering at Sir John Franklin School in the big yard there, too.
“This is our first time using the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Camp and we had wanted to (use) something that was accessible.”
Workers at the camp were busy preparing the site throughout most of the week while implementing strict public health guidelines that involved plenty of hand sanitizer, masks and physical distancing.