Solutions: Indigenous education camp empowers students through cultural immersion

While warm summer breezes blew and city dwellers hugged their air conditioning units, while wildfires raged in the west and war continued to rage in Ukraine, 13 Algonquin College students embarked on a life-changing adventure. While they’d been strangers up until that point, they would soon become family. From Aug. 22 to 27, Algonquin College’s […]
Photo: Submitted by Caleigh Ward
Algonquin College's Pembroke campus hosted its first Indigenous Education Camp, from Aug. 22 to 27. Thirteen students embarked on a life-changing adventure. Pictured back row, right side, Brenda Slomka, Dawson Lemaire and Caleigh Ward, with 12 others in attendance at Pikwakanagan First Nation.

While warm summer breezes blew and city dwellers hugged their air conditioning units, while wildfires raged in the west and war continued to rage in Ukraine, 13 Algonquin College students embarked on a life-changing adventure.

While they’d been strangers up until that point, they would soon become family.

From Aug. 22 to 27, Algonquin College’s Pembroke campus hosted its first Indigenous Education Camp, allowing students to engage in transformative activities that deepened their understanding of Indigenous histories and provided emotional and spiritual fulfillment.

Areas of learning centered around residential schools & Sixties Scoop, the Seven Grandfather Teachings, the clan system, self-governance, forestry management and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

The camp, organized as part of the Mamiwi Maadaadizi Project, aimed to advance Indigenization efforts at the campus and foster reconciliation among all students and community members.

Over the course of six days, participants moved from the Pembroke campus to Pikwakanagan First Nation to Foy Provincial Park, where they immersed themselves in a diverse range of activities.

These included artistic expression through painting and journaling, sharing talents, partaking in ceremonial practices, sitting in circles, gathering around bonfires and participating in the Kairos Blanket Exercise.

Through these experiences, students were able to learn truths about Indigenous communities and their rich histories.

Caleigh Ward, a public relations student who attended the camp, expressed her heartfelt attachment to the experience. “It was so tough to leave,” she said. “I would go back every year – more than once a year.”

Ward highlighted the well-prepared nature of the camp, which provided ample food, gear and engaging activities.

The Mamiwi Maadaadizi Project, a collaborative effort between Algonquin College, the Circle of Turtle Lodge, Pikwakanagan First Nation, Mashkiwizii Manido Foundation, Ontario Parks and Queen’s University’s Health, Communications and Environments Research Lab (HEC Lab), played a crucial role in conceptualizing the camp.

The initiative aimed to embed Indigenous knowledge across the Pembroke campus, identify best practices for Indigenization, and foster reconciliation for all community members.

Murray Sinclair, former Canadian senator and commissioner of the TRC, emphasized the critical role education plays in reconciliation during a Zoom discussion with college students and staff on Jan. 30, 2023.

“Education got us into this mess. Education will get us out,” said Sinclair. “I said that on the final day of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Education is not about being in school. Education is about learning what it means to be a human being.”

This project aligns with the Ottawa campus’ efforts to integrate Indigenous ways of knowing into campus life, as seen through the installation of murals and the naming of streets after historically significant Indigenous names.

The funding for the Mamiwi Maadaadizi Project was provided through a three-year grant from the Government of Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, meant that the camp was only able to be held once during the three-year grant period.

Brenda Slomka, program manager of applied research, innovation & entrepreneurship at the Pembroke campus, remains optimistic about the future of the camp.

“Finding future accommodations may be challenging but I want to stress the importance of finding a home that preserves the camp’s essence and maintains the meaningful partnerships and community relationships it has cultivated,” said Slomka.

For the participants, the highlight of the camp was the sense of community, where individuals formed deep connections with one another.

When Ward first arrived at the camp, she only knew one other person, Dawson Lemaire, an Aboriginal studies student.

“Dawson was the only person I knew going into it, but I came out with a whole family” she said. “We hope to all go camping together again this summer.”

She emphasized the genuine and judgment-free environment that allowed for open sharing among strangers.

Dawson Lemaire echoes Ward’s sentiment. “Everyone had something to bring to the table, and we really formed a family when we were there,” said Lemaire.

The camp’s impact resonated in the participants’ experiences with nature, where they encountered extraordinary moments filled with awe and wonder.

Lemaire recounted an episode when they all sang The Eagle song, and an eagle circled directly above their group, disappearing into the clouds.

Lemaire (in orange) and Ward (in purple) watch in amazement as the eagle circles the camp after singing The Eagle Song.
Lemaire (in orange) and Ward (in purple) watch in amazement as the eagle circles the camp after singing The Eagle Song.

“We were all doing The Eagle song, and as we finished our final circle, the eagle came down and started circling exactly over our group before disappearing into the sky,” said Lemaire. “It solidified that we were supposed to be doing this. We were meant to be there, together. Like a fulfillment of prophecy. It was really emotional.”

Such experiences exemplified the powerful connection between the participants and the land.

While uncertainty remains surrounding the future of the camp, Slomka believes the groundwork has been established for ongoing progress.

Ward, too, remains hopeful, accentuating that as long as the program can provide a location and accommodations, she is ready to participate again.

-With files from Emanuelle Aubin Desousa

Algonquin Times podcast
Algonquin Times on Instagram
Follow Algonquin Times on Instagram
Algonquin Times horoscopes
Follow Algonquin Times on Instagram
Algonquin Times podcast
Algonquin Times on Instagram
Algonquin Times horoscopes

Sections

Algonquin Times podcast
Algonquin Times horoscopes
Algonquin Times on Instagram
Follow Algonquin Times on Instagram
Follow Algonquin Times on Instagram
Algonquin Times horoscopes
Algonquin Times on Instagram
Algonquin Times podcast

Stay Informed

Sign up for our newsletter

You have been subscribed. Thank you!