Reconnecting with the past to reshape the future
At Camp Onakawana students learn traditional Indigenous skills such as fire-making, shelter-making, paddling, snowshoeing, ice fishing, small-game tracking and trapping and wild-game food preparation. Community Elders teach workshops on everything from goose decoy weaving to beadwork for traditional garments.
A favourite with students is a documentary about the Tozers, which highlights moose hunting and beaver trapping. The couple was recently featured in a National Geographic series called “Man, Woman, Dog,” on the Disney+ channel.
In order that students receive a balanced education at camp, harrowing realities from the past are also addressed. The Cree of the James Bay Lowlands experienced one of the darkest moments in Canada’s history at St. Anne’s Residential School. Over the school’s 100-year history, thousands of Cree children were forced into the school system, losing their connection to family, the land and traditional knowledge. Tony Tourville, an Advisor to the Onakawana Education Fund’s Board, spent his childhood at St. Anne’s. Students watch a documentary on his heartbreaking story, followed by a Q&A session with Tony.
Issues such as mercury contamination in fish from hydroelectric dams in James Bay are also part of students’ learning. They watch a documentary on the impact dams have had on the Cree’s traditional way of life. This is followed by a Q&A session, with William.