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Extreme weather conditions hit Ontario late January, forcing some to spend the weekend indoors, safe and warm. But not even a polar vortex could keep 19 adventurous Métis students from attending the 2019 winter Métis Youth Cultural Camp: Ivèr.
The Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) cultural camps offer high school students in Grades 10-12 a unique opportunity to experience first-hand traditional Métis culture and way of life. Ivèr, which ran from Jan. 31- Feb.3 in Thunder Bay, was the fifth in a series of seasonal Métis Youth Cultural Camps, bringing Métis youth from across Ontario together.
As these students prepare for life after secondary school, these camps equip them with valuable skills and life lessons; students develop leadership, confidence and a powerful sense of Métis pride and community.
“The camp allows them to question things and figure out for themselves who they are and [Camp Ivèr] adds to that personal growth. As they progress through the different programming, they’re going to grow more and have a better understanding of Ontario Métis history, culture and way of life,” says Scott Carpenter, MNO Manager of Projects and Partnership.
Bonding with peers
For many of the students, opportunities to come together with other Métis youth are rare, but proved a highlight of the experience.
Returning students were eager to reconnect with friends, while the uninitiated found the confidence to step outside their comfort zones and form new relationships.
Some students, including Sarah McCaveney, from Pickering, Ont., have attended every cultural camp since March 2018.
“At all the camps, I’ve learned something new. [Camp Ivèr] will expand my understanding of the Métis way of life [and] help me gain leadership skills that will assist me in post-secondary. Métis camp isn’t only a great way to connect with Métis youth, it’s a way to connect Métis youth with their roots,” she says.
Connecting with the land
Despite temperatures below -15 C, bright-eyed Métis youth were up early, ready to meet their bushy-tailed companions for lessons in dog-sledding. Paul Amano, owner/musher of Boreal Journeys took the students through a safety and training demonstration. They were taught commands to guide the dogs on the trail (“Gee!” “Haw!”) and encouraged to bond with the team of 29 huskies.
When not riding dogsleds through the woods, Métis youth strapped on snowshoes and explored the winter wilderness, honing techniques practised by their Métis ancestors.
The following day brought the students to Hazelwood Conservatory, where a brief hike led to a vast and frozen lake. Students learned to use manual augers to drill deep into the ice, established fishing lines, built shelters, and even set up a fire by the shore to brew some hot chocolate and keep warm.
From bonding with huskies, to releasing a young pike back into the waters, a profound sense of respect for nature underscored the outdoor activities.
Back indoors, MNO staff and Métis knowledge-holders from the area held various workshops for students.
Ranging from safety demonstrations and lessons in proper outfitting, campers learned the history and techniques employed by their ancestors to survive harsh winter environments.
Students also participated in crafting and quillwork, and classic Métis jigging and storytelling.
“The great thing about these camps is you really get to experience your culture and your history hands on, which I find is the greatest way to learn,” explains Métis youth Josh Bombardier. “A lot of the times you read about it in a book and it may not stick, but when you’re actually out here doing it, it’s just amazing.”
Following a fish fry, MNO Thunder Bay Métis Council Senator Ken Simard presented the newest camp participants with their very own Métis sashes.
Carpenter also took the opportunity to thank the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport for providing the funding for the camps. “The importance of culture and history for our youth goes beyond words. I think these youth, through their own words, have [described how] it’s changed their lives. There’s no value you can put on that,” he said.
Posted: March 8, 2019See ALL news articles