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Okotok Indigenous River Camp

September 28th 2020

Christopher Wainwright   Okotok Indigenous River Camp

Held in August of 2020 at the Boys and Girls Club of Calgary's Camp Adventure site in Kananaskis, the Okotok Indigenous River Camp brings together urban-based Indigenous youth with multi-Nation Elders from across the province. This event focuses on learnings from the land with teachings centred on ceremony and protocol, traditional activities, and opportunities for one-on-one, Elder-to-youth mentoring.

Over the course of five days, youth had the extraordinary opportunity to sit in circle and learn from 23 Elders! Reg and Rose Crowshoe, Shirlee Crowshoe, Herman Many Guns, Brenda Peigan, John Chiefmoon Sr., John Chiefmoon Jr., Monica Chiefmoon, Jackie Bromley, Doreen Healy, Kelly and Daphne Good Eagle, Clarence Wolf Leg, Violet March, Connie Santos, Linda and Darryl Brass, Wallace and Florence Alexson, Edmee Comstock, Alice Kaquitts, Kerrie Moore, and Frances Littlelight all joined us in circle.

The Okotok Indigenous River Camp included survival teachings of the traditional hunter-gatherer communities, cultural games, medicine walks, and teachings of the plants native to Treaty 7 territory. Each day included traditional meals, buffalo meat and stew, berry soup, bannock, and pemican, all informed by the teachings of the seasons and how communities would prepare and conserve food over the long winter months.

Further cultural teachings included language teachings (Blackfoot, Stoney, Cree, and Dene), modern-day survival teachings, the importance of human connection and family relationships, redefining gender roles (e.g., women as warriors, men as caregivers and pillars of support to their family and community) and establishing a healthy balance of masculine and feminine elements in one’s life, the responsibility of sharing and contributing our gifts to the community, and the importance of grounding the spirit, finding the breath, and connecting with Mother Earth. By their own choice, campers had the opportunity to make an offering and receive a sacred spirit name to remember their connection to the community and to the land.

Unique to this year, there are also online educational sessions in the weeks leading up to Okotok Indigenous River Camp. The goal is to provide a culture camp experience that is accessible to everyone.

This initiative, now in its third year, is organized in collaboration with the Alberta Recreation and Parks Association (ARPA), the Boys and Girls Club of Calgary's Indigenous Initiatives, Miskanawah, and of course, the Elders who very generously guide the way.

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