Saskatchewan Polytechnic students trek through Indigenous survival challenge

Saskatchewan Polytechnic Indigenous relay competitors work to boil water in a tin can from a fire they started on Sept. 19, 2019. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

Students at Prince Albert’s Saskatchewan Polytechnic (Sask. Poly) campus celebrated the fall equinox with their annual Indigenous relay race.

Nine teams with 10 students each took part, practicing traditional survival skills that Indigenous people used living off of the land.

The race consisted of long distance running, paddling across the river and back in a canoe, cycling, running with a heavy pack, log cutting and starting a fire and boiling water with it using only four matches and kindling.

The challenge is funded by Sask. Poly’s Indigenous Student Success Strategy.

Jennifer Brockman is the coordinator for the All Nations Gathering Place at the Indigenous Students Success Centre, which organized the relay.

(For) students who maybe never have done something like this before, to take the courage and the time to put together a team and also just to participate is really amazing,” Brockman said.

Brockman explained how Indigenous people used to run between communities or paddle across water to communicate—they needed to keep in touch about war or sickness, for example, and trade resources.

(It’s) just a brief step into what that life may have been like.”

Brockman said a favourite part of the relay is seeing the students cheer each other on at the end.

Everybody’s just smiling and happy and taking pictures of each other,” said Brockman. “Just seeing the fun and the excitement that builds up towards the end when they’re building a fire and boiling that water, to when it finally boils and they’re done. It’s just a great moment.”

Aiden Young participated in the long distance running event for the team of students studying corrections. They came in first place with a time of about 36 minutes.

While I was running it was like ‘I’ve got to get there in a good amount of time.’ It’s harder than I remember, running, because it’s been a while since I’ve done a competition,” said Young.

It was a great event to participate in overall and I’m glad that my team did as well as it did, and everybody seems to be having a lot of fun.”

Tyrell Cherney, who competed on the team of Integrated Resource Management (IRM) students, carried the 22-pound bag of flour. The IRC team came in third place with a time of just over 44 minutes.

Go hard off the beginning and finish strong,” he said about his team’s strategy.

We all coordinated between each other and we picked our strong suits,” added Cherney. “I kind of participate in military activities, so it’s kind of something I prefer to do.”

He described how it felt during his leg of the race.

It just all happened in a flash. The guy on the bike was coming out of the east side gate of the exhibition grounds and I ran to him, I grabbed that baton and I came running for that bag of flour and I just grabbed it and away I went. Didn’t think of anything, just grabbed and go.”

Two other members of his team tipped their canoe and fell into the water.

The fire department had their rescue boat and Sask. Poly had a first aid kit at the river for safety purposes.

Indigenous Strategy Coordinator Deanna Speidel said Sask. Poly has the largest number of post-secondary Indigenous students in the province.

Sask. Poly also holds a similar relay in the winter.

This is a chance for redemption. In the next season, if they didn’t win here, if they weren’t successful winning here, they have another opportunity,” she said.

Other areas of study that had a team were Aboriginal Policing Preparation, Resource Environmental Law, Early Childhood Education, Continuing Care Assistant, Addictions Counselling, Business Certificate, Business Administration, Office Administration and Literacy and Adult Education.