A culture camp that recently took place at Donald’s Landing, located at the south end of Lake Babine, helped approximately 30 urbanized Aboriginal youth reconnect with their roots.
This was the fifth year of the annual camp, which is hosted by Carrier Sekani Family Services’ (CSFS) Walk Tall program. The majority of camp participants – ages 14 to 18 – are urbanized youth that had never had the chance to learn basic aspects of their Aboriginal culture. Some of them are in care, and some of them live with non-Aboriginal families.
During the camp, participants learned about hunting, food gathering, drumming, speaking their Aboriginal language and being connected to the land.
“I think any time we support our Aboriginal people in reclaiming their culture and reclaiming their identity, that’s when real healing begins,” said Joni Conlon, community safety coordinator for CSFS.
“If we can start with our youth and show that they can be proud of who they are, we are starting them at an optimal journey as opposed to starting them at a deficit.”
According to Conlon, culture is a powerful protective factor for Aboriginal youth.
“For Indigenous youth, knowing who they are, knowing what territory they come from, beginning to learn their language is all part of being a healthy individual,” she said. “And when we don’t nurture that, we have poor health outcomes – mentally, emotionally and physically.”
“[At the camp] they realize they came from great leaders, people who lived on the land for thousands of years,” she continued. “You can really see it in kids, when they connect to who they are.”
The first week of the camp was exclusively for boys. The approximately 15 boys went on medicine walks, berry picking, and some of them were able to go hunting with a guide. In addition, the boys experienced a ‘spirit bath’ at Babine Lake, which was intended to reconnect them to the land.
“It’s amazing,” said Conlon. “What we have to focus is bringing youth back to the land.”
The following week, the 13 participating girls made drums, went on medicine walks, learned about canning and caught 200 fish.
The camp was open to the 11 CSFS member nations. CSFS believes that youth who are attached to culture, language, ceremony and ritual have lower rates of homelessness, suicidal ideation, diabetes and HIV.
“They are just safer,” explained Conlon. “The outcomes are better; that’s why these projects to save culture are so important.”
Lake Babine Nation Chief Wilf Adam also recognized the importance of the camp.
“Many of our young citizens do not live on the ‘rez’ and only know the concrete jungle,” he said. “They have no opportunity to do their cultural ways so we have camps to connect them back to our ways.”
Conlon added it was fascinating to watch the participants’ progress throughout the week.
“These youth would come in with anxiety, and by the end of the week they were just different kids – grounded, able to participate in groups; it really was quite transforming.”