Dehcho canoe trip engages youth, despite challenges

Dehcho canoe trip engages youth, despite challenges
Elder Margaret Vandall shares traditional teachings with youth at the Telemia camp.Photo: Dahti Tsetso.

Participants in this year’s Dehcho ecology camp were sent slightly off course when thunderstorms and forest fires forced them to alter their plans, but intrepid instructors quickly came up with a backup plan to save the learning experience.

For the first time in the Dehcho First Nations (DFN) camp’s decade-long history, youth were to paddle from Fort Providence to Jean Marie River, making stops along the way to learn about the natural environment along the route.

Alas, the elements caused the fleet to turn around after its first day of paddling and host activities at Telemia Camp in Fort Providence from Aug. 12 to 22.

“On that first Saturday, we had some pretty extreme weather. The paddle was supposed to be two hours and it turned into a seven-hour paddle,” said Dahti Tsetso, resource management coordinator for DFN and organizer of the camp. “Midway through the day, it started raining ash from the fires and the kids were having a really hard time breathing, so after the first day of paddling we had to make the call to turn around and head back.”

Despite the early setback, the campers were able to continue their learning at the base camp on the shore of the Mackenzie River. Fourteen youth from Fort Providence, Jean Marie River, Fort Simpson and Wrigley took part in this year’s adventure.

“This year, I really wanted to have them immersed in not just ecology, but I wanted them to have a strong traditional knowledge to call upon on the river trip,” Tsetso said.

Local elders were invited to share their knowledge on the trip along with teachers from Fort Providence’s Deh Gah school. Other partner organizations included the Dehcho Land Use Planning Committee, Aboriginal Aquatic Resource and Oceans Management Dehcho (AAROM) and Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA).

The school’s involvement meant that the camp’s youth, aged 13 to 18, could collect CTS credits while learning about land-use planning, environmental monitoring initiatives and traditional life. In the days leading up to the ill-fated canoe trip, they also got their certification in first aid and environmental stewardship.

“A number of communities from the Dehcho are within a protected area strategy process where they’re trying to protect areas of land for conservation,” Tsetso said. “We hosted an internal workshop that the kids participated in to deal with protected areas strategy and how to move forward with protected area strategies in light of devolution.”

DFN brought in a series of experts to discuss the issue, including Miles Richardson, the former president of the Haida Nation who was fundamental in helping establish the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site in British Columbia.

“The kids were really great; they were all really positive,” Tsetso said. “They all worked together really well. I was impressed with them.”

The youth also enjoyed the experience.

“I really like canoeing because it’s fun to see what it actually looks like to be on land and how our ancestors travelled back then,” said William Alger, 15, of Fort Simpson. “It’s fun to experience the sites and see all the animals, spending time out there and enjoying time with friends and family.

“My favourite part of the trip was learning from the elders because they have so much to teach,” he continued. “The medicines from the land, and a bit of history from us…I learned a lot from the elders out there.”

Alger said he also enjoyed hearing about the history of land use programs and how they differ across the country. He would like to return to the camp again next year, though hopefully without any interruptions from nature, he said.

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