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Traditional Knowledge Focus Of Camp

John Bauchop Wells

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      WINTER 1999/2000      v30 n01 p13  
It is a sunny, crisp morning in late September. Terry Lavalle is standing beside his 1966 Ford flatbed truck at the Indian Outdoor Education camp in the Qu'Appelle Valley near Regina. "Okay, let's unload the teepee poles," he says to the dozen students gathered around him, all training to be teachers in the Department of Indian Education at Saskatchewan Indian Federated College.

Rhonda, 20, springs forward and lifts one of the fifteen, 15-foot pine poles from the rear of the truck. She hefts it over to a clearing where she places it on the grassy ground. Soon the other students join in, heaving the poles to the clearing and laying them down. "We always use pine for the teepee poles," says Lavalle. "They grow straight and dry straight. You don't get poplar like that."

Next, he directs students to select three poles and lay them together. He ties the three together about two feet from what will be the top of the teepee. Rhonda and two other students each take one of the three poles tied at the top and stand them up. Each student steps backwards with a pole in hand and there it is- the three-pronged triangle that will become a teepee in the style of Plains Cree.

"Now you must decide which direction is the east because the opening of the teepee is always made to face the east," says Lavalle. People are figuring out which direction is east when Elder Willie Peigan raises his arm and points towards the sun. "There is east," he says.

One by one most of the other poles are lifted until the ribs of the teepee are in place. Lavalle explains that, properly installed, the pole-ends at the top will form the shape of a water-bird. The water bird seems to be hiding itself a little bit today. The last two poles are inserted in the flaps of the canvas that will cover the air opening at the top of the teepee. Students unfold the canvas and smooth it.

It is time to stitch together the two ends of canvas where they meet at the front of the teepee above the entrance. Lavalle makes an Indian ladder out of rope and says, "Okay, now, who's the lightest one here?" Irene, 20, is volunteered by her companions. With their help she climbs the teepee ladder and begins to stitch up the 16 neighbouring holes with 16 small sticks. Lavalle calls this the teepee zipper.

The students step back to look at their handiwork and Lavalle says, "When they designed the teepee, they really knew what they were doing. Teepees can withstand the wind more than any other shape."

He goes on to explain that there are several types of teepees. In Crow-Blackfoot country, where it is windy, the back of the teepee is made longer for more protection. Teepees can be three times as high as this one and can be strung together with halls in between. They can even have backrests installed around the inside. "You've got to use your `Indian-uity'," Lavalle smiles. "An Indian is always resourceful."

Lavalle points out that the students have raised the teepee by working cooperatively, a traditional value in Indian education. The individual is always seeking to serve the community. He also comments that students learned to raise the teepee through observation and hands-on participation, the traditional method of instruction.

Earlier that morning, a campfire, ringed by rocks, was built and students walked in a clockwise circle around the fire, depositing pieces of tobacco into it. The fire marks the ceremonial beginning of the students' four-day outdoor education experience at Camp Monahan. The camp is located on the shore of Pasqua Lake in the valley formed by the autumn-coloured Qu'Appelle hills. The camp is down-valley from the Treaty 4 grounds and is on Pasqua reserve lands.

The Indian education students will travel to another Saskatchewan location for an outdoor winter camp next term. Over the next four days they will participate in a pipe ceremony in the teepee with Elder Willie Peigan and listen to him pray to the Creator in Cree. "It is important to seek guidance in prayer every morning," the Elder says.

The students will also learn from Linda Goulet, SIFC education professor and outdoor education instructor. They will make berry soup (meat, potatoes, berries and water); crush chokecherries using clean rocks to remove the arsenic in the pits ("Indians knew that arsenic in small amounts is good for the heart," notes Goulet); make campfire bannock and bannock on a stick (wrap the bannock dough around the point of a green stick and toast it in the fire); and learn to thinly slice meat and smoke it in strips hanging from a wooden rack over the fire.

Christa, 20, stirs a pot of crushed chokecherries with the end of a branch, adding sugar as instructed by Florence. ("Christa's making witch's brew," jokes a friend.) And Rhonda blends cranberries and blueberries into jam for bannock. Jacquie Hookimaw will make Labrador tea for everyone. New Education Department head, Dr. Norbert Witt, will break away from on-campus meetings to join students later around the evening campfire for a little fellowship.

At night, Irene Flett demonstrates hand-games and math/ science professor Dr. Christina Mader talks about the moon and the stars and other night science. There are sharing circles, a nature walk with Clara Pasqua, traditional singing and drumming with Rick Favel and Elder Peigan, a writers' workshop with Angelina Weenie and playing of traditional games led by Ray Petracek. Students also write thoughts in a journal.

"The theme of the class is learning from the land and the Elders," says Goulet. "And how you can use it in your teachings and how Elders teach in a traditional setting."

"It's not modelling, it's far more complex than modelling," she continues. "It involves a relationship and behaviour in small groups. It's teaching students an awareness of what the learning style is- they're doing it experientially."

Goulet says there is a lot to be learned from observation of nature and lessons of life from watching the animals; a lot to be learned by reconnecting with nature. "It's a different pace outdoors, where you slow down and have time to think."

While traditional life cannot be completely reproduced in a four-day camp, it can be introduced to students and awareness and understanding of traditions can be created.

"The whole focus of the program is integration of Indian content, such as ceremonies. When we go out to the outdoor

(continued on page 15)


Traditional Knowledge Focus Of Camp

John Bauchop Wells

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      WINTER 1999/2000      v30 n01 p15  
education camp, we're moving toward a traditional structure," says Goulet.

SIFC's education students become elementary teachers at band schools and take on administrative positions. Some also teach in urban schools. "The demand for Indian language and curriculum and materials development is very high," says Goulet. SIFC needs a Masters program in education to prepare students in special education, language/ curriculum, counselling and healing.

Teasing, laughter and jokes are very important. At the conclusion of the camp, students perform skits and participate in a round dance. "We had so much fun doing it last year," says Goulet. "We laughed and laughed."

She says it is important to create a safe environment for students to feel free to play and have fun and pretend as part of their outdoor education. This was sadly missing from the residential education experience. Says Goulet, "it's important for them to be able to have fun and act silly without using alcohol. I want them to experience natural highs. They need to let loose and be who they want to be, open up in a responsible way and express themselves in a positive way."

It is nearing lunchtime and there is a burst of laughter from inside the teepee. Vince, 20, Rhonda and several other students are inside, joking with one another. Vince is the only male education student there and he acts a bit like a big brother, cajoling the others, mock-scolding them and inviting jokes directed at himself. There's another burst of laughter inside the teepee. Vince comes running out, a big grin on his face.

"Come back here, Darren," calls a female voice, laughing. "We want to make a Cree man out of you."

Darren throws his arms into the air. "But I am a Cree man," he shouts to the sky. And everybody, teachers included, is laughing.