Reflections on the 2019 Winter Youth-in-Care Camp

2019’s second youth-in-care camp hosted by ANCFSAO and OACAS wrapped up in November after three days of teachings from Elders, cultural activities, and bonding. The winter camp offered teens ages 14 to 18 the chance to connect with one another during outdoor adventures, sunrise ceremonies, and a movie night.

Luke Nicholas emceed the event with energy and humour, launching the weekend with a circle that included ice breaker games and a personal development exercise. After dinner, Elders Maria Swain and Ernest Beck spoke about culture and healthy relationships.

A common theme emerged as the event’s speakers took their opportunities to teach the group: the youths’ unlimited potential.

“You can do anything you want,” Maria Swain told the teens. “The world is open to you.”

Youth then separated into groups of four or five to decorate black hats with a wild assortment of crafting supplies and colours, all while holdings hands. Participants formed chains and used only the right hand of the person on one end and the left of the person on the other end, helping them find ways to work collaboratively. Each beautiful hat demonstrated that the activity was a success, and that each participant had patiently contributed to their team’s efforts.

Nimkii Osawamick, a world-renowned hoop dancer and entrepreneur, spoke about following many dreams rather than picking one interest to pursue. Relating the story of his developing career in music and dance, as well as his company, Dedicated Native Awareness (DNA), he advised the youths to explore their passions.

“The possibilities for all of you are endless,” he told them. “You don’t have to do just one thing – you can do anything you want to do as long as you are willing to work for it.”

Nimkii gave volunteers the chance to practice hoop dancing moves, and one young woman wore her regalia and danced with him to the beat of the Anishnaabe Abinoojii drum and her drummers, Clarence White, Teddy Copenace, Howard Copenace, and Leslie Copenace.

Activities in the morning and afternoon included women’s teachings with Maria Swain and drum keepers Sherry Copenace and Hazel Copenace, as well as rattle-making with Tim McGregor and land-based teachings with Ernest Beck.

In the beautiful woods of Geneva Park, Ernest showed groups of teens different forms of edible vegetation as well as fungus that would smolder rather than burn and could be used to heat hands during the cold winter months. His eager listeners crashed around the forest, tearing down dead branches and kicking at piles of leaves. Inside, they gathered around Ernest to learn how to create sparks and practice safe fire-keeping.

In women’s teachings, attendees were taught songs and received wisdom from the event’s three female Elders, while in the classroom across the hall rattles were cut out, sewn together, filled with sand, and left to dry overnight.

That night, campers were distracted from Jumanji by craft tables, snacks, hot chocolate, and one another as they chatted throughout the evening. One young woman kept the entire camp entertained with frequent stand-up routines. Staff and campers would gather around her and laugh as she commented on high school, her classmates, and her friends with dry humour.

Each morning, campers and chaperones gathered sleepily around a fire in spite of the November chill to pass and eat berries around a circle and hear from Maria and Ernest, who shared their stories and offered prayers to the young ones for the day. On the third and last day, snow coated the camp, and yet the group around the fire had grown in size.

During the closing ceremony, teens were each given a bundle containing a shell, a sweetgrass braid, cedar, and sage, which were blessed by the drum and prayed over by the Elders. Two young people were given hand drums to thank them for their enthusiasm and for bravely sharing their stories, and each of the campers were sent off in an emotional closing ceremony.

The weekend was an enormous success, made possible by the efforts of all those who came around the youth to support them on their next steps towards adulthood. Special thanks go to the Geneva Park staff, Luke Nicholas for emceeing, Khush Bamboat from OACAS for her support, and the resource people and speakers for contributing their time and wisdom.