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Youth get to connect with the land

Melanie Bell
Northern News Services
Thursday, August 09, 2007

INUVIK - Last week, 12 foster kids from the Beaufort-Delta region had the chance to experience life on the banks of the Mackenzie Delta.

These youth, ranging in age from eight to 12, spent July 30 to Aug. 4 taking part in a program called Camp Connections.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

From left, Trudy Wilson, Emma Dick, Melanie Bell and Sarah Tingmiak share some stories during the Camp Connections excursion last week. Youth were brought out on the land for nightly trips, learning traditional skills. - photo courtesy of Melanie Bell

Participants attended the Inuvik Summer Day Camp, then boated to the Rachel Reindeer Gwich'in camp where they spent evenings and nights. Three children in the program were Inuvik residents and regular participants in the day camp.

Camp Connections is run by the Foster Family Coalition of the Northwest Territories. According to the Coalition's website, "Camp Connections is a cultural camp that is designed to promote traditional knowledge, cultivate respect, leadership, teamwork and social skills for children and youth in foster care across the North."

The program originated three years ago in Yellowknife. It continues to be run from that location. In past years, the Beaufort-Delta region's Department of Social Services has sent children to the Yellowknife program. However, it was expensive to do so.

In 2005, a social worker suggested beginning a program in Inuvik. She and her colleagues spent the year seeking interest in the project and founding a coalition of partners to put it in action. The Gwich'in office agreed that the idea was feasible, and Social Services secured the use of the Rachel Reindeer Gwich'in Camp. They spent the following year planning for the program, which has now finished its pilot week.

At the Inuvik Summer Day Camp, participants enjoyed Survivor Week, participating in sports, games, crafts and survival-related activities. The campers particularly enjoyed swimming in the Midnight Sun recreation centre's pool. Day camp co-ordinator Kimberly Male said she believes the program went well despite encountering a few challenges. For her, its greatest advantage is that "kids from the communities who would not go to camp get to go to camp. They get to experience something new."

At the Gwich'in camp, social worker Trudy Wilson, two student counsellors and a maintenance worker supervised the participants were supervised by. Meals were provided by Irma Cockney, an experienced chef who has prepared meals at the camp for years during school tours. Her two daughters participated in most camp activities.

"It's the ideal setup," said Amy Jenkins, co-ordinator of Camp Connections in Yellowknife.

Activities included sports, games, arts and crafts, and a campfire. However, the setting was less structured than the day camp. The children improvised many of their own activities, such as building a swing from rope, feeding the birds and helping Cockney in the kitchen.

"I wasn't sure how independent they would be able to be," Wilson admits, "but there's a lot they can do."

A camp highlight was the visit from Inuvik elders Emma Dick and Sarah Tingmiak. The two women shared string games, stories and a traditional way of preparing fish.

"The kids just went over to them naturally," said Wilson, adding that the generations connected easily because the elders knew and asked about the children's families.

When asked the most important lesson she has learned in life, Dick said, "to be out on the land."

This perspective is reflected in the younger generation. When asked what story she wanted to hear, one camper requested, "tell us about living out on the land."

The children were excited to see eagles and a bobcat while boating back and forth from camp.

Armed with a week of experience, the Beaufort-Delta region will continue Camp Connections next year, altering its program to run more smoothly. Cockney's words express the feelings of many of the camp personnel: "I really enjoyed my time here. It was a learning experience for both me and my kids."