Reflections from the 7th Annual Youth-in-Care Camp

Written by Sherry Brown, Communications Coordinator for ANCFSAO

The 7th Annual Youth-in-Care Camp kicked off at YMCA Geneva Park on August 27th and ran until August 29th, 2019. It was the first time the Association of Native Child and Family Services Agencies of Ontario (ANCFSAO) hosted the camp, and it was an extraordinary experience.

The event, intended for ages 9-13, brought together 63 Indigenous kids in care from 14 Ontario agencies (5 Indigenous Child Well-Being Agencies and 9 non-Indigenous agencies) for three days of connecting, learning, and engaging in culturally relevant activities. It began with an opening ceremony featuring a drum circle by Phil Jones and Dion Syrette and an introduction from ANCFSAO’s Elder-in-Residence, Danette Restoule.

Kids then disappeared into classrooms to create soapstone sculptures, learn lacrosse techniques, and master Okichitaw in ANCFSAO staff member Stephan Borau’s Indigenous martial arts class. Tim McGregor taught his group how to make rattles by stitching together wet hides and filling them with sand, and the classroom was shockingly quiet as the kids became absorbed in their creations.

Perry McLeod-Shabogesic taught a classroom full of kids his fluid drawing techniques as Jackie Labonte and Oliver Nobosin set up a sweat lodge by the lake with a group of little helpers. Three quiet sisters stayed close to one another as they tied strips of red, yellow, white, and black fabric to the intersecting saplings of the structure, eventually stepping back to smile at their work.

In the evening, kids, chaperones, and staff gathered around a fire for spooky stories and marshmallows, and the fire was lit again just a few hours later for the first sunrise ceremony. As the sun cast a golden reflection on the lake, Elders Ernest Beck and Gertie Beaucage offered wisdom and led the group in a water ceremony with the assistance of Liam and Olivia Restoule, a young brother and sister who came to the camp to assist in ceremonies.

That morning, those gathered for the ceremony were treated to a group of children singing a song with their backs turned to their audience to hide their nerves, as well as a throat-singing performance from one child whose enthusiasm inspired everyone, campers and staff alike.

The recurring joke that the kids enjoyed over the course of the camp was calling, “Taxi!” every time a Geneva Park golf cart drove past or delivered hot dogs and marshmallows to the campers gathered around the fire.

When the activities of the second day, which included making dreamcatchers and learning to exchange greetings in Ojibway, were finished, a mini pow-wow filled the camp with the sounds of drums and harmonizing voices. Hoop dancer Nimkii Osawamick inspired applause several times with his astounding storytelling through dance, and his mother Liz Osawamick captivated the young audience with a jingle dress dance. One little girl won a spot dance and proudly told everyone who would listen about her enormous $20 win. Phil and Dion invited a group of eager youths to join them in drumming and singing, and they were complemented by a second drumming group, Mixed Tribe, from the Peterborough area.

By the third day, when Phil moved a drum-making class to the auditorium because it was too popular, and when two days of lacrosse lessons from Cam Bomberry culminated in an epic final game, there was a noticeably different energy to the entire group than when the event began. One little girl stood out: she arrived at the registration desk silent and too shy to make eye contact, and by lunch on the second day was chatting with other children and even resource people and staff, excitedly running from one activity to the next with confidence and a brilliant smile.

The giveaway ceremony during the closing ceremony on the last day was many of the kids’ first, and campers were sent off with a miigwetch circle dance. As chaperones and children packed their bags and filed into cars and buses, ready to head home, excited squeals and laughter filled Geneva Park.

The camp was a success thanks to an overwhelmingly wonderful group of kids always eager to engage and learn, as well as outstanding resource people, behind-the-scenes staff members from ANCFSAO, and the amazing staff at YMCA Geneva Park. Thanks also go to OACAS for their sponsorship and assistance.

Indigenous kids from across Ontario came together to learn from one another, engage with their culture (some of them for the first time), and went home with beautiful drums, soapstone bears, dreamcatchers, paintings, rattles, and a new-found obsession with lacrosse and Okichitaw.

A second camp will be hosted by ANCFSAO at Geneva Park from November 1st to the 3rd for youth ages 13-17. Stay tuned for details.