There were smiles all 'round in Chisasibi as elders and students engaged and connected over caribou, expanding their language, knowledge, and skills.
Secondary 5 students spent five days learning how to harvest caribou . . . starting from the initial kill to the final products - the meat, the hide, and the bone. Students also learned the proper Cree terms for everything Caribou and reinforced the Cree values of respect - for the entirety of the animal - and sharing - through learning how to store, distribute, and cook caribou.
The idea for the caribou teachings - the first such event for the Cree School Board - originated with Angela Bearskin-Gates, who attended a conference on land-based educational programming last year.
"So I contacted someone from the Cultural department here in Chisasibi that I had previously worked with and told him my idea of wanting to create workshops for youth," she said. "We have noticed that our students are losing their language and culture slowly, and we have been noticing that our children are speaking more and more English instead of Cree. I am hoping that these workshops will help our students to better understand our culture and language."
With funding help from New Paths for Education, a schedule was created, elders were approached, and caribous were brought to the Elders' Camp.
The caribou teachings included what to do with the hide and how it can be used. Students also learned about the traditional thread for sewing on the hide. They learned how to clean the head and brain of the caribou as well as the feet, and the value of those parts of the caribou. Even the marrow of the caribou's bones was used.
Some of the comments on social media spoke to the value of the unique activity.
"I think that was one of the "most awesomest" Mondays ever! Had our 1st day of Caribou Teachings at the elders camp today for Sec 5 students and we have it going on for the rest of the week!"
"Loved my day with students and elders🤗 we’re getting everything recorded so that it can be used in the classrooms too!"
On Day 2, social media offered these comments:
"3 more [caribou] were killed and the students put to practice what they learned the day before and were so proud of themselves that they knew most of how it’s done."
"Eddie also joined us today and explained the tools used when working on the caribou hide."
"A few students have come up to me saying how happy they are to be there and learning about the caribou and from the elders🤗"
Gates, who was recently appointed Interim Director of Education Services, says, with this success in hand, the land-based educational offerings will be brought to other communities.
"We saw this as an opportunity for students to immerse themselves in culture and language, and they did," she said.
The final day of the activity, students and elders worked together to create and share a traditional caribou feast.