Culture Camp: A Gratitude Story

Young ones creating rattles. Photo courtesy Woodbridge Farms School.
Young ones creating rattles. Photo courtesy Woodbridge Farms School.

by Tara Beck

Last fall, the Beaver Hills Biosphere was honoured to work with the incredible staff and Elders of Woodbridge Farms to support a Fall Culture Camp for some of their school families. It was an incredible weekend of learning, sharing and relationship building at Strathcona Wilderness Centre. The following story attempts to capture some of the moments that were part of that special weekend.

The sun, finally high enough over the trees, broke through the thin blanket of cloud that streaked the sky. The trees swayed in gratitude as the mid-day heat warmed the chill from their trunks and leaves. Brilliant oranges, yellows and reds bathed the land in a soft glow, while a hawk soared high above the clearing. For a moment everything was silent.

The deep nasal tones of a bull moose broke the stillness, followed by shrieks of joy and boisterous applause. Inspired by the teachings of Elder Bert, the young ones took turns cupping their hands around their mouths to emulate the distinct sounds of the impressive animal. Some were so skilled in their attempts that adults couldn’t help but look nervously along the fringes of the clearing; would a moose come crashing through the bush in response to the call?

When the contest was over, the group shared admiration at the courage of the competitors. Even the most uncertain among them had stood before the crowd to practice their newfound abilities. Many had only known each other for a few hours, having met early that morning when Elder Gilman lead them in opening prayer. They felt grateful for the new connections they were making with each other and with themselves. Eventually the crowd dispersed, and many made their way back to continue the work that had engaged them so deeply through the morning.

One young one tugged enthusiastically at her dad’s coat in an invitation to go check on her rattle. Guided by the patience and wisdom of Elder Russel Auger, she had spent most of the day carefully piercing holes through robust hide. Using sinew, she lovingly stitched the pieces together to create a pouch, which she filled with sand, and hung from the crooked branch of a poplar tree to dry. The next day she would put the finishing touches on her rattle - a new belonging that she would care for and cherish always.

An older boy sauntered over to the table where he had been working on a drum. He felt pride in the efforts he and his brothers and sisters had made to build the beautiful piece. The teachings and songs shared by Lloyd Cardinal filled his heart and connected with him in ways he had not expected. Just then, someone approached the group with a plate of bannock and tender smoked meat. As he worked, he had watched the swirls of smoke rise from the fire across the clearing. It was there that the moose and beef had been skillfully cut and hung to smoke above the smoldering punky wood. He was grateful that the time had arrived to share this delicious meet with his new friends.

While the young ones worked and learned from Elders, the little ones played. Some gathered sticks, boxes and leaves and hid in the teepee. “There’s no one here,” they shrieked as they curled into balls to escape the gaze of approaching adults. Others demonstrated their feats of strength by rolling thick logs up and down hills. Their imaginations and the teachings of the land had them playing and learning together for hours.

Soon the sun began its descent towards the Western horizon. The beat of the drum, accompanied by a powerful song, called everyone to the round dance. The Elders explained that this was an invitation to bring people of all backgrounds together to dance to the heartbeat of Mother Earth. It was the perfect way to end the first day. Exhausted, but fuelled by new friendships and an excitement to learn more, they could hardly wait to do it all again the next day.