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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


September 8, 2001 - Issue 44


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Camp Places Focus on Native American Science


 by Arlene Helderman, Staff Intern International Falls Daily Journal-August 23, 2001

Near BARWICK, Ontario - Trying to integrate traditional Native American science with Western science is the aim of a summer science camp held recently at Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre.

The camp, which was run in two-day sessions from July 10 to Aug. 17, was sponsored by Seven Generations Education Institute in Fort Frances, Ontario. Other organizations and individuals were involved, including Indian Northern Affairs Canada, Rainy River First Nations, and the Historical Centre. Over 75 campers came from northwestern Ontario, Manitoba, and Alberta.

"The summer youth camp responds to elders' request to share knowledge with youth and youth wanting to learn more about their culture and land-based activities," said Laura Horton, director of the Post Secondary Education Program at Seven Generations. Horton noted that the camp, which began in 1994, has had several different emphases over the years, including language immersion, canoeing coupled with math and science, and ornithology. Ethnobotany and water study, however, are its newest focus.

"Instead of separating everything and looking at it under a microscope, Native science does things in a much more holistic manner," Horton said. "That's extremely important because the kids spend so much time in a public school system learning the Ministry of Education curriculum that they don't have a place where they can understand the validity of their own cultural background." Chyrel Wynne, the camp's supervisor, agreed.

"We teach the campers that Anishinaabe does exist, it is valid and it is different yet compatible with Western science," Wynne explained, adding that a teacher from Blackduck recently consulted her for advice on multicultural education. "Native science needs to be recognized in the classroom so that all the students may learn and grow."

What Wynne and Horton are referring to are Anishinaabe knowledge about plants, animals, ecology, earth, and life itself. Wynne explained that star study aided travel, weather prediction, planting and harvesting seasons, and much more. Animal tracking trails were used for convenient travel routes and the medicinal or healing purposes of plants were recognized. Today, Wynne said, pharmaceutical companies continue to seek aboriginal knowledge about plants in order to increase prescription drug products.

"Where did that knowledge come from?" she asked. "The Anishinaabe people have known it for hundreds of years. But there's so much that our children don't know." Thus the camp meets several needs - bringing balance between Native and Western science, trying to close a generational gap, and attempting to teach young people age-old yet still present traditions.

A typical day at the science camp begins by standing and acknowledging the sunrise and learning about the sacredness of tobacco and water. Other activities include a watershed program where the campers test the river for contaminants, identifying the behavioral patterns of butterflies and moths, picking plants for medicinal purposes and learning not only their uses, but also the English and Ojibwe words for them. Ecological games, pottery and birchbark crafts, and a campfire with songs and stories shared are also offered.

An important aspect of the camp is the chance for the campers to hear an elder speak about a variety of topics: the importance of preserving the land, the significance of the ancient burial mounds, memories from growing up, and how to make a birchbark canoe or bake bannock on an open fire.

"It's informal, but one of our objectives is to open up that door between our elders and our young," Wynne said, adding that the campers are urged to write down a question to ask an elder. Those questions will eventually be compiled and put into book form.

While Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung has been the camp's site for only two years, it is perhaps the prime place for this educational event to occur.

"For thousands and thousands of years, our people have been here," said guide Gilbert Grover. "(The campers) have historical roots here and they're on sacred grounds."

The Historic Centre holds Canada's oldest aboriginal structures and is known as a historic gathering place. An area called Prairie Oaks Savannah contains 250 documented plants and flowers not found anywhere else in Ontario and a nine-sided structure called Round House embodies clans, families, and community. Four teepees along the Rainy River provided overnight shelter for the camp's participants. The site was blessed by an elder during a peace pipe ceremony, tobacco was placed on each edge of the area, and it is the future location of an encampment exhibit, mimicking what life was like before European settlement.

Although the camp concluded last week, Seven Generations Education Institute continues its work with young people. Their philosophy states that the institute "encompasses the traditional education process by blending culture, tradition, information and technology." Likewise, Seven Generations "honours those who have walked ahead of us, respects those who walk with us and considers those yet to come."

  Maps by Travel

Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre
Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung, is the word in the Ojibway language for "Place of the Long Rapids." More than just a physical location on the Rainy River in Northwestern Ontario, Kay–Nah–Chi–Wah–Nung is a place of spirituality, history and beauty. Designated as one of Canada's National Historical Sites in 1970, it's importance has been acknowledged for generations by natives and non–natives alike.

Seven Generations Educational Institute
In 1985 the bands of the Rainy Lake Tribal Area formed the Rainy Lake Ojibway Education Authority. This union was formed because of the desire to maintain traditional cultural and linguistic values and to improve community interactions along with their economic and social status


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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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