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Reviving a way of life
Cultural skills training a hit with Wekweeti youth

Kassina Ryder
Northern News Services
Friday, January 15, 2016

Layden Judas was so excited to learn about trapping, he didn't miss a single day of the two-week program held in Wekweeti in December.

NNSL photo/graphic

Layden Judas, Grade 7 student at Alexis Arrowmaker School in Wekweeti, spent two weeks in December learning trapping skills with local trappers. - photo courtesy of Nathan Fitzsimmons

"We went trapping all day," said Judas about his and a fellow student's attendance. "We never missed."

Judas and fellow Alexis Arrowmaker School students Melvin Tom, Simon Lamouelle and Noah Kodzin spent the first two weeks in December travelling into the bush with local trappers, said Adeline Football, community director for the Tlicho government and the program's organizer.

The program began as a way to promote both traditional and outdoor safety skills to youth in the community.

"My thought was that I should teach them the safety parts and why people go out hunting, why our aboriginal people go out on the land and have respect for the animals," she said.

Each day, the boys and two local trappers, William Quitte and Chris Football, travelled by snowmobile to set and check their lines. Quitte is a graduate of the Tlicho Wilderness Safety Training Program, which has been teaching participants ice rescue techniques and other safety skills since 2014.

Staying safe in the bush was an important lesson, Judas said.

"You gotta be careful when you set the trap," he said. "It might snap on your hand."

Pairing youth with experienced trappers helps kids recognize the work that goes into maintaining a successful trapline, Football said.

"They have to learn how to respect other peoples' traplines," she said. "At the same time I want them to learn the meaning of going out and doing the trapping. At the end when they finish, they know how to go out on the land and also about respecting the land."

It also gives youth a glimpse at how to make an income from trapping, as well as a confidence boost when they realize they've got what it takes.

"They have to do it themselves," she said. "They have to learn independence."

Independence can come in many forms, said teacher Nathan Fitzsimmons.

"There has been a lot of loss of culture over the generations and now we realize how important it is for self identification and self esteem, knowing where you came from, knowing your family story," Fitzsimmons said.

The program also reinforced lessons being taught in the classroom, he said. The boys had to use their math skills to work out how much it cost to trap in comparison to how much they would potentially earn.

"In traditional trapping, you had to budget for gasoline, traps, ammunition," Fitzsimmons said. "With how much you make per pelt, is it feasible to run the business with the money you're getting in and how much your overhead cost is going to be."

When one of the boys caught a marten, the group brought the animal back to the school to skin and prepare the fur, which touched on science curriculum.

"Actually during December we were going through the different systems in the human body," he said. "When they were skinning the animal they could see the different muscle groups."

Judas often helps his grandfather on his trapline and now that he has his own traps, he hopes to have a trapline of his own.

"When I go trapping it's fun," he said. "I like being in the bush."

The Tlicho Government's Wekweeti Community Presence office, the Wekweeti community government and Alexis Arrowmaker School partnered to fund and deliver the program, Football said.

Sewing program begins

On Jan. 18, another traditional program for youth was scheduled to begin, Football said. This time, the focus is on developing girls' sewing skills, though boys are welcome to join as well.

Thirteen students from 10 to 15-years old will spend about two weeks in January learning how to make moccasins and beaver mitts.

Many of the girls have already been learning basic sewing skills through an economic development program in the community, and Football said the time has come to tackle larger projects.

Again, the emphasis is on teaching independence.

"The person who is going to be teaching will do her own (mocassins)," Football said. "Then they have to do it themselves."

Once they make their moccasins and beaver mitts, the group will begin planning an entire traditional outfit.

"I'm trying to make plans for every month to do sewing programs, it doesn't stop at the beaver mitts making," Football said. "We want to work towards doing a fashion show where they can show what they make and stuff like that here in the community."

Football said getting youth interested in traditional activities will benefit the community in many ways. Not only does it teach a new generation about their history, it also provides economic opportunities for those who go on to make a living from their work.

"It's good to approach the kids first and let the kids encourage the parents to do it," she said, adding the youth are definitely eager to begin.

"All the students are really excited," she said about the sewing program. "They're bugging me to have it started right away."

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