In late May kihêw waciston, the university’s Indigenous centre, brought 30 students, faculty and staff to maskêkosihk, Enoch Cree Nation, for the nation’s Spring Cultural Camp. Over four days, they took part in land-based learning opportunities led by Elders and Knowledge Keepers from Treaty 6 territory.
“Our Indigenous communities are filled with knowledge – knowledge you can’t get in a western, university setting,” says Terri Suntjens, director of Indigenous Initiatives. “Part of kihêw waciston’s role and direction is to connect and build relationships with our Indigenous communities that are vital to ensuring our students remain connected to their culture.”
It was exactly the type of experience second-year Bachelor of Arts student Kelsey Sorensen was looking for.
“My father was a Sixties Scoop kid and my mother was adopted under different circumstances, so I grew up being very disconnected from my culture,” she says. “When the opportunity to take a course that involved spending four days at the maskêkosihk cultural camp presented itself, I jumped at it.”
Kelsey was taking COSL 300, a community service learning course taught by Dr. Colleen Irwin of the Department of English, with support from Terri and Roxanne Tootoosis, the university’s Indigenous Knowledge Keeper. Students in the course, who were from a variety of programs, spent three days in classes before the camp preparing for the experience, and then the entire four days of the camp – including staying overnight in a tipi – learning from Elders and Knowledge Keepers.
“I thought it would be a cultural experience or a reawakening, but it ended up being so much more,” says Kelsey. “This camp gave me more confidence to go into ceremonies in the future, and I left feeling very much like there was a door open for me to continue on my own journey.”
Connecting to culture
“As the Elders shared their teachings about moon time and motherhood, and as we took part in a sweat lodge and swing therapy, it became clearer. The teaching was that women are powerful.”
MacEwan faculty members, the entire staff of kihêw waciston and Elly O’Greysik’s NURS 255: Nursing Practice, Diverse Populations II course also took part in the camp. “As future psychiatric nurses, I feel it’s extremely important for my students to recognize the importance of ceremony as part of healing and culture,” says Elly.
The many opportunities the camp provided to be immersed in ceremony in traditions was impactful – even life-changing – for those who attended, says Terri.
“This camp is humbles you, connects your mind to your heart and lets you be still and reflective of our purpose as human being in this experience on Earth,” she says. “maskêkosihk was welcoming and gracious to our MacEwan group, and worked very closely with us to ensure that our visit was meaningful. We are very grateful to the community, Chief Billy Morin, Councillor John Thomas Jr. and Rocky Morin for their openness and for creating space for our group in their nation. We walked away with memories, relationships and gratitude.”