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The rites of fall

Adam Johnson
Northern News Services
Thursday, October 25, 2007

Liidlii Kue/Fort Simpson - Students are already looking back fondly on a recent trip to the T'elemie Culture Camp near Fort Simpson, where they spent more than a week getting better acquainted with Dene culture.

"It was an eye-opener," said Fort Simpson student Winter Alger, 11. "You learn a lot of things."

NNSL photo

Sabowa Visser holds up an impressive chunk of moose meat from an animal he and fellow students hunted during a cultural camp near Fort Providence last month. - photo courtesy of Neil Penny

The camp brought together 35 Grade 6 students from Fort Providence, Jean Marie River and Fort Simpson for intense cultural learning, including land skills, hunting, cooking, beading and sewing - with a lot of fun mixed in.

"It was a great experience for everyone involved," said Deh Gah school instructor Sheena Hagens. She said this event - titled Puberty Rites of Passage - is a portion of the three-part Education Through Commitment Project, which focuses on traditional skills.

In the winter, the project will introduce drum making, followed by a Deh Cho canoe trip in the Spring.

"The aim of this program is for students to develop land-based hunting, trapping and preparing skills, increase confidence and self-esteem and share their experience and successes with others and each other," Hagens said.

The program started Sept. 19, as male students got a head start learning bush survival skills, camp maintenance, respect for the land and hunting.

Female students joined the group Sept. 24, focusing on sewing, crafts and berry picking and food preparation.

Of the Fort Simpson crew from Bompas elementary, two of the students found the camp to be similar to their regular home experiences.

"Me and my dad always go out in the bush," said Sabowa Visser, a comment that was echoed by Ernest Tsetso, 11.

For others, however, it was more of a learning experience.

"We went canoeing and me and Winter (Alger) tipped over," said Leanne Ocko, 11, with a laugh.

Practice made perfect for the boys, as they snagged two moose during their four-day hunt.

The most valuable asset they learned, particularly when it comes to building camp, is how to work together.

"We learned teamwork, and how to make (the shelter) good and rain-proof," Visser said.

"It was a great team-building exercise," said Bompas instructor Neil Penny, who accompanied the boys. "They got to get out and experience their culture."

Penny said he witnessed the kids learning a great deal of traditional skills, and one additional one, which came in very handy. "Taking care of Mr. Penny," he said with a laugh.