The serene surroundings of the Hannin Creek Education Centre at Candle Lake were flush with activity from Sept. 27 to the 29 as WJ Berezowsky Public School orchestrated a one-of-a-kind culture camp for its Grade 6 and 7 students.
The immersive camp began with an opening ceremony comprising traditional smudging and rhythmic drumming.
Vice Principal Darcie Court said the camp came about as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action.
“We’re very fortunate that one of our staff members really dug in to get some grant money to help us deal with the Calls to Action for Truth and Reconciliation,” Court said. “One of the things that we really noticed in our building is the fact that many of our students really have not had the opportunity to do land-based learning. We recognized how important this is to healing and ties to contacts with friendships and socialization and mental health.”
Throughout the two and a half days, students delved into a treasure trove of activities that brought them closer to Indigenous customs and traditions. They participated in enlightening tipi teachings, made medicine pouches, took part in a reflective medicine walk, and enjoyed the experience of Bannock-making and numerous other cultural engagements.
Conservation Officers also taught firemaking and an instructor from Sask Polytech talked about fossils, fur and animal artifacts.
“The kids were so engaged in that conversation, just holding an animal bone that was 4,000 years old, things like that, it really brought together our Grade 6 and 7s,” Court said. “It builds community.
“The relationships that were built, student to student and staff to students, is really big. That time, those 2 1/2 days, just the change in our students, the change in the atmosphere, it can’t be measured to be honest with you.”
There were 24 Grade 6 and 7 students and five adults who took part in the camp, Court said it was a remarkable experience for everyone.
“Right now we’re already trying to figure out ways to continue this just to keep building on culture, to keep building on relationships,” she added.
She said that land-based learning helped to get students culturally connected.
“Any form of knowledge will bring forth more questions and more wondering and more inquiry.
“Students even phoning home at night, some students and talking to their parents about what they were learning and what they were doing, just even bringing that all back to life,
The beautiful surroundings at Hannin Creek also helped to make the camp special.
“Hannin Creek is phenomenal. The nature walks, the ability to find medicines within walking distance, being outdoors, even understanding about Wildlife Conservation officers. Absolutely that is a remarkable spot for us,”
Principal Dwight Tournier said that the culture camp also served to be a team builder for students and pointed to students comments. He said that was proof that they accomplished their goal.
“The culture camp was a magnificent and unique experience,” he explained. “It was magical and inspirational. We left with greater knowledge and an appreciation for nature.”
A Grade 7 student recalled culture camp as a place they had great adventures and teachings, and where classmates became family.
“That was one of our goals too, the culture piece plus also to make those friendships between classmates and between the two classes so that we can work together better here at the schools,” Tournier said. “We just totally nailed it.”
Tournier wasn’t able to attend the camp in person, but hopes to accompany students if they make the trip again.
“It’s too bad I could not have been there and I’ll try to make it for the next one, but by the sounds of it, even when the kids were getting off the bus, they were saying, ‘I wish we could have stayed longer. We didn’t want to leave. Can we go next time for a whole week,’” Tournier said.
“As a staff member that went there, I’m going to have to arm wrestle Mr. Tournier next year to go because I’m going again as well,” Court joked.
Bringing such a rich cultural immersion to life required the collaboration of a dedicated team. The team that put it together included Tournier, Court, School Social Worker Adam Horachek, Grade 7 teacher Ms. Deschambeault and Indigenous Perspectives Consultant Mrs. Thorsen, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes.
The camp would not have been possible without the generous donations of the sponsors, Gordon Downes, SIGA and SaskOutdoor the staff and students extend a huge thank you for the experience.
With initiatives like these, WJ Berezowsky Public School stated that they crafting holistic and meaningful learning experiences for students.