Written by Chelsea Cattroll, Ever Active Schools, with support from Dr. Kevin wâsakâyâsiw Lewis, kâniyâsihk Culture Camps
We turn to the land when we are stressed to re-connect to ourselves and become grounded. During a time that can be perceived as stressful and turbulent, I have seen that many people are starting to return to the land, seeking grounding to help maintain positive mental health and in both urban and rural places.
I recently received the opportunity from Dr. Kevin Lewis of kâniyâsihk Culture Camps to be involved in a four-part project, supported by Canadian Roots Exchange (CRE), in response to the events of the COVID-19 pandemic. The project intends to document traditional on-the-land skills, continue maintaining the practice of those skills, and to share those skills with other teaching professionals, land-users and communities in an effort to ground us during the pandemic. We hope that the content we produce and the knowledge we transmit will serve to inspire people at home to learn those skills themselves and to keep those at home busy by openly sharing our collective knowledge of on-the-land skills.
The project took the shape of a camp gathering, with a select group of Land-Based Learning professionals from Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as guest facilitators. From my own personal experiences, this small gathering restored a sense of normalcy in a time of chaos and uncertainty. When we were out on the land, eating food and medicines we had gathered and sharing our various skill sets, I found that what was happening in the rest of the world didn’t seem to matter for a while. We all felt grounded. I really enjoyed being able to connect with others and learn from them while keeping my mind and body active.
BUILDING COMMUNITY THROUGH COLLABORATION
During the first of the four-part project, guest facilitator Brian Bird taught us how to traditionally brain tan moose hide. Tanning hides is an extremely strenuous and physically demanding activity that involves many steps carried out over several days. Brian is incredibly gifted with his knowledge of working with hides and was an excellent facilitator with a passion for passing knowledge on. I found that those hides taught me the value of community: I had been trying to make a hide by myself at home and it was fighting me the whole time; but when we worked collectively as a community, we were able to not only tackle that project, but it was more enjoyable to work and learn with others. On top of the value of collaboration, I really learned the importance of quality tools and how to care for them while you work with them.
RESPECTING THE GIFTS OF THE LAND
For the next part of the project, we began the construction of a birch bark canoe. However, we didn’t purchase the materials from a store: almost everything that we utilized for the build was gathered by hand, right down to our tools for the build that we crafted ourselves. We used canoes to paddle across the lake to harvest materials from the land: we peeled birch bark, dug up and split spruce roots, and split cedar wood with hand tools to construct the ribs of the boat. The harvesting part of the build was my favourite, especially digging and splitting spruce roots. The sense of connection and grounding that you get with sitting on the land and appreciating what the land has to give us when we reciprocate that respect, was incredibly rewarding.
UNDERSTANDING SYMBIOSIS IN PLANTS
Most recently, we put in a large garden and experimented with various companion planting methods. We studied which plants partner well together and examined the relationship that they have to help each other grow and flourish. An example of this would be the back half of the garden, where we did quadrant plots of variations of the three sisters garden (squash, beans and corn). Each pairing serves to give the other an ideal growing environment with either a structure to grow tall on or to provide shade and pass nutrients to the other plant. We are excited to track the progression of the garden throughout the course of the summer — so far we are already having success, with seedlings sprouting this week!
APPRECIATING DIVERSE OPINIONS AND FINDING SUSTAINABLE ALTERNATIVES
For the final part of this project, we will be sewing various gauntlet-style mittens. Our small cohort came together with different patterns and styles of mittens, made from all different furs and leathers. We all shared the traits we prefer in various styles of mittens and what we each found to be the best traits for the jobs that they are made for. Some of us will be making beaver mittens; others will be making mittens from wolf fur. One of the aims of this project was to share our collective knowledge to improve the craftsmanship of our own and others work, but it also helps to promote the wild fur industry. Oftentimes, when people think of the fur industry, they have a negative image in their heads. We want to promote the sustainability and longevity of the products we sew from the furs, in addition to sharing the significance of trapping to our communities for maintaining our identity as Indigenous peoples. There are few individuals that hold the knowledge of that trade, but in response to COVID-19, people are beginning to see the importance of these trades as we shift away from a consumer culture and move towards more sustainable options.
LEARNING AND GROWING
A learning curve of our projects has for sure been adapting to how to best utilize technology. As teachers, many of us have struggled with the transition to online learning. Even at the camp, we all struggled with technology in one way or another! However, we have all collectively learned and grown our knowledge with utilizing technology to share our work. Already we have begun to see many positive effects, not only in this community from sharing what we are doing via social media, but also in other communities across Canada. After the community began to see our posts of being on the water and utilizing the land, there was an immediate response. People saw us learning from the land and wanted to seek the same connections, knowledge and growth we were experiencing.
As we collect and review the various media used to document this project, we will share the resources developed to be accessed by all. Tune in to the Ever Active Schools social media channels and sign up for the monthly e-newsletter to be the first to watch!