As summer vacation for secondary students in Ontario came to an end, a group of adventurous Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) youth travelled to Killbear Provincial Park for four days of land-based learning at the MNO Infinite Reach Summer Break Camp.
The Summer Break camp features Métis cultural activities that help Métis youth connect with their heritage. The camp also stresses the importance of goal-setting and planning for the future as the youth, ranging from grades 10 to 12, are exploring options for life after secondary school.
“I feel like I learn more in a week at the MNO’s Infinite Reach camps, than I do back in regular school,” expressed recent high school graduate Tyson George after returning from a day out on the waters of Georgian Bay.
After setting up camp (including tents, cooking and cleaning stations) for the week, the land-based learning curricula took on an aquatic dimension as students-turned-Voyageurs learned to properly launch and command the massive 36 ft. Montreal-style canoes.
Though not of the original birch version their Métis ancestors would have used, the large fiberglass MNO canoe easily fit students, staff and the gear needed for the day on the bay.
After learning the basics, including the traditional “Métis salut” used to signal recognition between Voyageurs, students paddled to the nearby Mowat Island for lunch and lessons in foraging -- finding wild blueberries, fresh raspberries and other medicinal plants. Back at camp, staff member and former Infinite Reach facilitator Courtney Vaughn showed how to brew a tea high in Vitamin C using yarrow and white pine, and sweetened with a touch of maple syrup.
Dry land activities were designed to introduce campers to other aspects of Métis culture, including finger-weaving, embroidery and beading. When not pursuing these more creative arts, students could be found fishing, swimming and even volunteering to help with tasks around the camp.
For first time participant Ethan Michalenko, these simple gestures proved he could really rely on his Métis peers:
“Everybody really pitches in at camp to make sure things get done, and fairly too. We have a list of organized duties so everyone contributes. But even the 'work' we do is kind of fun too, like managing the fire or prepping food for dinner. It doesn’t really feel like work.”
These camps teach students the skills their Métis ancestors needed to survive, but the camps are more than that.
"They provide hands-on experiential learning opportunities that enhance their overall skill set, strengthen their sense of identity and help them make positive connections with other Métis youth,” said the youth camp organizers.
These camps are made possible by the Ministry of Education and future seasonal camps have been secured for the upcoming year.