Smith’s Landing First Nation (SLFN) youth recently had the chance to sleep on the land of their ancestors for the first time in decades.
Eight youth aged 13-23 spent two days fishing, canoeing and learning the history of the important traditional camping grounds located at the mouth of the Dog River, which offshoots from the Slave River into a pristine area plentiful with wildlife, berries and cascading waterfalls.
For elder Francois Paulette, who accompanied the youth to the site Aug. 8-9 along with his brother Mac, it was a moment he had been waiting to see for years.
“I felt a sense of spirituality and it made me very emotional, that these young people were returning to a place that I saw when I was a young child. It’s kind of like I waited a long time for this to happen,” he said, describing a moment where a young man caught a pickerel and stuffed it with wild onions growing along the riverbank.
“That was impressive,” he said.
It was the first time SLFN summer students had the chance to go out on the land and learn their people’s history, thanks in part to efforts by the First Nation’s new youth coordinator, Stacey Wanderingspirit – a new position at the band office.
“They always have summer students every year, but this year was different. A couple of years before they made them cut grass and stuff because they didn’t know what to do with them, but this year we wanted them to do more activities so they learn more,” she said.
Part of the goal was to use the camp as a trial run for establishing a more permanent space out at Dog River, which could function as a cultural centre for the First Nation, especially the youth.
“It’s an ideal place because our ancestors have used this place since we can remember,” Paulette said. “This is a place these young people can return to, to begin to talk about their own personal growth, their own healing.”
It is also an ideal place to learn Denesuline language and culture, Paulette said.
“What keeps coming back in my mind is the language. There are not too many of us in our First Nation who can still speak the language, and our teaching of the language becomes a lot stronger and faster when we’re on the land,” he said.
Paulette is hoping the young people and their parents get involved in expanding the cultural camp, which he said has “immense” potential.
“I really encourage the parents to put aside their political dysfunction and turn to our young people and provide them leadership – positive leadership, clean leadership,” he said. “We have so many archaeological sites; we can do so many things.”
Wanderingspirit said the youth had a great time doing something new and different.
“They really enjoyed it out there, being away from the office and not being stuck here,” she said. “They liked being outside in the outdoors because it’s so pretty out there, too.”