After a year of planning, Indigenous students in the Fort McMurray Public School District (FMPSD) were off to learn about hunting, trapping and survival from an experienced trapper in Anzac. The division hopes to make this style of learning a regular feature within the school system.
For two days beginning March 18, Justin Bourque, CEO of the Willow Lake Métis Nation, brought junior high and high school students to his trapline south of Anzac and shared Métis knowledge of the area.
The trapline has been used by Bourque's family for generations, which is why he felt it would be the perfect place to teach students trapping skills, snowshoeing, fur trade history, building fires and shelters, and other outdoor skills.
“Unfortunately, this is a dying skillset, a dying tradition and people are losing their connection with their culture,” said Bourque. “I carry a lot of pride with me in terms of the fact I’m still a traditional land-user. For me, to be able to share that with students on my family’s land and where I’ve been raised is very special for me.”
One activity students were excited about was learning about the fur trade. Bourque had Willow Lake Métis members dress and act as if they were in the 1870s to help with the lessons.
“They had black-powder rifles, muskets and all kinds of old artifacts and knowledge about how the Hudson Bay Company operated,” said Bourque. “It was really cool to see and the students were really engaged.”
Bourque started organizing similar trips with Anzac's Bill Woodward School in 2018. The Northland School Division has a similar land-based learning program for students.
Connecting traditional knowledge with the school curriculum is a key part of Bourque's teaching. He once taught student how to survive a cold night during a simulated bus crash in the forest. Teachers taught students about how different clothings insulate heat before the exercise. Any participating high school students can earn two credits towards their diploma.
Angela Woods, Indigenous lead for FMPSD, said the students were volunteers passionate about deepening their understanding of traditional land usage.
“They were driven, they were excited, they were laughing and just right in their element,” said Woods.
Annalee Nutter, an assistant superintendent with FMPSD, said the trip was originally a three-day overnight camp. COVID-19 restrictions turned the experience into a day camp, but students still finished multiple cultural activities. A Spring camp in Draper is being planned for students in grades four to six.
“We need to move forward on a path of reconciliation in some way,” said Nutter. “So we would be building all students into this eventually so they can learn about the culture and have that perspective.”
Sarah Williscraft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Read more from Fort McMurray Today