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Students learn on the land

Nathalie Heiberg-Harrison
Northern News Services
Published Monday, September 26, 2011

Students in the aboriginal language and cultural instructor program at Aurora College in Inuvik got a brush up on their studies earlier this month when they took part in the Beaufort Delta language integration camp.

NNSL photo/graphic

Elizabeth Colin, left, Annie Jane Kay and Rene Koe trim caribou tufting floral designs at the Rachel Reindeer Wellness Camp, which is about a 15-minute drive outside Inuvik on the Mackenzie River. - photo courtesy of the Beaufort Delta Education Council

The camp, which was held at Rachel Reindeer Wellness Camp from Sept. 10 to 15, gathered together more than 40 elders, students and aboriginal language instructors from the Beaufort Delta communities for on-the-land training.

"It's about how the language and land and traditions act, how they co-exist," said Suzanne Robinson, senior instructor of the community educators program at Aurora College.

The goal of the six-day camp was to revitalize and celebrate Gwich'in and Inuvialuit culture and languages.

On Sept. 11, Donald Kuptana, Kyle Kuptana and Steve Cockney organized Northern games, and on Sept. 13 community members were invited to the camp for a feast of traditional foods.

In between, students and teachers were busy setting nets, smoking fish, picking berries, gathering medicine, setting snares, plucking geese, tanning moosehide, and collecting firewood.

They also made dolls and fish scale art with the help of the six elders who attended - three who speak Gwich'in and three who speak Inuvialuktun.

Dwayne Drescher, who is studying the Inuvialuktun dialect Uummarmiut through the instructors program, said he enjoyed learning new skills on the land.

The 26-year-old from Tuktoyaktuk decided to take the program at Aurora College after a professor at the University of Saskatchewan told him, "Once the language is gone, the culture is gone."

"This is a good stepping stone for me," Drescher said.

Rosalie Ross, 63, may have done more teaching than learning at the camp, but said she enjoyed her time nonetheless. Ross, who is from Fort McPherson and speaks Gwich'in, said she hopes to run her own on-the-land programs once she graduates in May 2012.

"I want students to learn our culture, language, plants, animals, everything to do with the land," she said.

"I'd just like them to learn all these things because we're not going to live forever, you know. They have to learn when they have the chance."

Denise Kurszewski, assistant superintendant of the Beaufort Delta Education Council, which co-sponsored the camp with Aurora College, said they will likely host another language integration camp, and hope to have enough participants to run a full language immersion camp.

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