Fish camp hooks visitors with art

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On the eastern side of Jolliffe Island, the Rainbow Coalition is putting on a free and open fish camp to provide inclusive access to teach about food security.

The Rainbow Coalition fish camp takes place on the eastern side of Jolliffe Island in a wood stove heated prospectors tent. Participants help set nets under the ice on Great Slave. Brett McGarry / NNSL Photo
The Rainbow Coalition fish camp takes place on the eastern side of Jolliffe Island in a wood stove heated prospectors tent. Participants help set nets under the ice on Great Slave.
Brett McGarry / NNSL Photo

Indigenous language and LGBTQ2S+ program coordinator Jiah Dzentu, who is running the camp, said the goal is to teach participants every aspect of processing fish including setting nets, scaling and gutting and preparing the food.

“They learn the whole process, start to finish, from auguring the hole to bringing home some food,” Dzentu said. “Most people are used to fishing in a hole but setting nets under the ice is a unique experience.”

Dettah elder Berna Martin will provide insights into fish processing and teach the Wiliideh Yati language.

Being run by a Rainbow Coalition, the camp is welcoming to members of the LGBTQ2S+ community.

“This is a queer inclusive camp and that might not seem like much, but the reality is folks from the queer community don’t necessarily have access to cultural or on-the-land activities,” Dzentu said.

“Often times spaces for learning these things are not very welcoming.”

Dzentu, who grew up in Fort Simpson, said learning how to live off the land has been a priority in her life. She’s thrilled to have the opportunity to oversee the camp.

Jiah Dzentu runs Indigenous programing for the Rainbow Coalition and organized the fish camp. She said she wants to create an inclusive space for LGBTQ+ folks to learn on the land skills.
Brett McGarry/ NNSL Photo

“This is my dream job,” she said. “Being able to put on a fishing camp has been amazing and the response has been great. People are showing up to check nets at nine in the morning on. They really want to learn.”

In addition to fish harvesting and processing, the camp is also offering fish scale art lessons from artist Charlotte Overvold. Her approach to art, Dzentu said, was a perfect fit for the camp and will avoid unnecessary waste once fish are processed.

“I’m North Slavey Dene and part of me trying to identify more with my culture is showing people how we use every part of the animal,” Overvold said. “We don’t believe in waste and try to use every piece respectfully.”

Respect for the fish, she said, is essential and helps create a positive atmosphere for her work while mindful of cultural protocols.
“When I cut or catch the fish, I always make offerings with tobacco or do a smudging,” Overvold said. “I don’t talk negative or talk around the fish or the pieces I’m working on.”

She observes similar principles while mentoring youth.

“Working with youth, I always ask them not to make negative comments to the fish,” Overvold said. “We always say mahsi cho (thank you), we light tobacco, and it changes the dialogue. It’s very meditative; it’s very healing.”

Jen Chiasson with her daughter Julia Chiasson and niece Kate Smith with the fish scale art they created at the Rainbow Coalition Fish camp. Brett McGarry/ NNSL Photo
Jen Chiasson with her daughter Julia Chiasson and niece Kate Smith with the fish scale art they created at the Rainbow Coalition Fish camp.
Brett McGarry/ NNSL Photo

The healing and cultural aspects inspire her to stay involved in these community and school workshops.

“That’s what’s beautiful about it,” said Overvold. “The art comes from something that is sacrificed and we eat it and we can also use it and wear it and share that art with each other. The fish can nourish in our stomachs but also in our hearts and in our souls.”

The camp runs daily until March 23.

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