Thirteen youth from Mi’kmaw communities have made their way to Bridgewater, N.S. to participate in a week-long education program aimed at connecting them with their culture — using science as the tool.
The Melkiknuawti land-based education program will be led by staff and outreach instructors from SuperNOVA at Dalhousie University and the Ulnooweg Education Centre. “Melkiknuawti” describes the Mi’kmaw idea of nature as a path of strength.
“Indigenous youth today sometimes are growing up very disconnected from their culture,” said program coordinator, Caitlin MacPhail.
At the program, “they will have the opportunity to learn cultural traditions and practices.”
The camp is taking place at Windhorse, which has been known as a healing retreat for those looking to connect with the land.
The free program provides hands-on experiences such as learning about fish cycles, building a sweat lodge and trapping. The participants are taught the science behind it all.
“We’ve got elders and facilitators coming in this week to help with those teachings. That’s a really key part of it: that the participants bring away their connection to the land,” said MacPhail.
According to MacPhail, the main goal of the program is for the youth to leave feeling more connected to who they are and who they want to be.
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She said she hopes to see some of them pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
For 13-year old Lily Beth Fisher, the experience thus far has made her feel more connected to nature.
She said she wants to be a part of any opportunity to learn more about her heritage.
“Knowing that my culture can go extinct, I’m trying to go to any camp to learn the language and learn how my ancestors survived,” Fisher said.
Participants will also have opportunities to take part in ceremonies, develop general skills ranging from survival to digital literacy, and take time for meaningful reflections.
The Indigenous practice of the Seven Sacred Teachings will be incorporated into the curriculum, as well integrating Mi’kmawi’simk (Mi’kmaw language) throughout Windhorse and the program.
MacPhail said this is the first time SuperNOVA and UInooweg Education Centre have offered a land-based education program like this.
She believes they will continue for many years to come. Those like Fisher would like to see that happen.
“I hope there are a lot more camps like this where kids can leave the technology, leave the internet and kind of re connect with their culture,” said the participant.