Back to School Means Learning on the Land in Northern Saskatchewan

group shot black lake
Project: Traditional Food

Imagine a school year that starts off with students and local Elders travelling over 10 hours by vehicle, boat, and quad to spend the weekend camping, canoeing, rising with the sun each morning, setting and lifting fishing nets, hunting, gathering berries and medicines, processing fish, preparing their own meals, and learning traditional Dene teachings.

For five days in September, that’s exactly what 19 Grade 10 students from Churchill Community High School in La Ronge, SK and Father Porte Memorial Dene School in Black Lake, SK had the chance to do around the Black Lake and Fond du Lac River watershed system of Northern Saskatchewan.

Tending to the fire. And to lunch!

Tending to the fire… and to lunch!

With the guidance of Traditional Knowledge Keepers, Freddie Throassie and Ambrose Sandypoint, students had a chance to immerse themselves in the ways of their ancestors and experience a traditional Dene lifestyle. To keep the camp running smoothly, each morning the group gathered at the main tent to cook breakfast together and hear what everyone had planned for the day.  Activities ranged from checking the trap line, to chopping fire wood, to processing meat for dinner.

The trip was also a unique opportunity to bring Dene, Cree, Metis, and non-Indigenous community members together, helping youth gain a better understanding of cultural similarities that exist across their province with other communities.

Trips such as these are planned regularly throughout the school year by Northern Lifestyles teacher Christine Ravenis at Churchill Community High School, with tremendous amounts of guidance and support from local community members and Traditional Knowledge Holders. Freddie emphasised the importance of pushing the youth beyond what they are used to during their daily routines back home and helping them get to a place where they can find a bit of serenity by being on the land. A skilled hunter and Dene Elder, Freddie was key to organizing the trip and provided the youth with a unique perspective of what life was like generations ago for the Dene.

The group returned home on September 20th after a weekend. Christine hopes that this partnership between the two schools will continue for years to come, making the trek out to the Corck and Black Lake regions an annual event that kicks off each new school year.

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