On-the-Land at Willow Lake

With funding from NSERC PromoScience, three youth-focused, one-week camps are planned with community partners in the Northwest Territories over the next 3 years. The first on-the-land camp was the 2018 Dehcho Youth Ecology Camp at Willow Lake (Edéhzhíe), during late August, in partnership with Northern Water Futures, Dehcho First Nations and Wilfrid Laurier University, and funding from NSERC PromoScience. During the camp, youth were engaged through a series of activities, games, and teachings. Elders and knowledge holders shared Dené laws, values and (South Slavey) language, and led traditional activities, practices, and ceremonies. NWF researchers led hands-on science-based activities using various tools and technologies (i.e. mapping, surveying, and video recording) to teach youth how to measure changes in water quality, permafrost conditions, and ecological function.

I attended the camp to help facilitate and coordinate the various activities, as well as to gain experience for my future doctoral research, which explores the role of land-based education for empowering Indigenous youth in the North. Specifically, I led Waterlution’s Great Waters Challenge activities, which were adapted to Willow Lake for Dené youth from Fort Providence and Fort Simpson. Moreover, I led four activities in total, each building upon the last. First, we did an icebreaker and embodiment exercise to connect youth with their waterbodies. Youth were asked to write down a list of words that were related to water, and then we went around in a circle and wrote their favourite words on a piece of paper in the shape of a raindrop. After everyone shared their water words, we went around the raindrop and physically embodied the meaning of water by moving our bodies to the different words.

During the second activity, youth shared their connections to the land and water with stories of who they are, where they are from, their relationship with water, and what watershed they lived in. The third activity was incorporated into the others’ activities, which probed youth to listen to the Elders’ stories and scientists’ research to understand how Willow Lake has changed over time. For the last activity, youth created their own water-based activities and games to celebrate their connections to water.

I most enjoyed learning from the youth about their relationships to the land and water. Additionally I enjoyed learning what concerned them about various environmental changes, as well as listening to the Elders’ stories about Willow Lake and the sacredness of the place for Dené peoples. Throughout the week, I continued to feel more and more connected to Willow Lake and to everyone at the camp. There was a special bond created amongst all camp participants, which truly showed the power of the camps, not only for youth, but also for all participants.

Overall, the Willow Lake camp showed how land-based education is important for educating and engaging youth about ongoing environmental changes, through traditional knowledge and science-based learning, so they are empowered to become future leaders in their communities and inspired to get more involved in environmental research and monitoring initiatives.

Author: Stephanie Woodworth, PhD Student, University of Ottawa

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