Lessons were taught on Great Slave Lake for the penultimate day of the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre’s three-week summer culture camp on Aug. 29.
The kids got their hands dirty learning to seine – a fishing technique whereby a net is dragged through the shallows in an attempt to catch tiny fish to use as bait – and then enjoyed bannock-on-a-stick cooked over a camp fire on the beach at Sandy Creek.
“A lot of kids don’t realize this is here because it’s traditional Dene land,” said Sharon Pekok, executive director at the centre. “It’s a shame. It’s such a beautiful area.”
Environment and Natural Resources officer Albert Bourque was on hand to teach the kids not only how to seine, but also about the biodiversity of the south side of Great Slave Lake.
Bourque said the mouth of the Hay River and to a slightly lesser extent Sandy Creek are some of the richest areas for wildlife in the whole lake and remain important habitats for young fish.
“The waters that come out of the rivers flowing from the South are warmer and can support more microbial life,” he told The Hub. “That makes it perfect for lots of small fish, which are all forage species for larger fish in the lake.”
Bourque also noted the reeds and sheltered waters at the mouths of the rivers serve to protect the bigger fish when they are juveniles until they grow big enough to brave the colder waters of Great Slave Lake.
As for what that means to local cultures, Bourque said that people have been settling on the banks of the lake since the beginning of human habitation in North America.
“Our ancestors used to come here to camp for the summer,” he said. “They would make dry fish and store it up for the winter when they would go back to their settlements at Buffalo Lake.”
Bourque said getting out to teach kids about the wildlife in the South Slave is one of the best parts of his job and working with the culture camp in the last few weeks has been a rewarding experience.
“It’s vital you start with youth, so that they appreciate these areas for the incredible sites of biodiversity that they are,” he said. “This region has one of the densest and most diverse fish populations in the whole lake, and some of those go on to be the most important commercial and sport fishing species on which we depend.”
For Beatrice Lepine, who has been helping out with the camp since its inception, the final day on the beach was the perfect melding of science and tradition. She said she wants the children to be able to walk in both worlds and understand the land from multiple perspectives.
“We’re looking at this incredible body of knowledge,” she said. “It’s not all scientific and it’s not totally traditional. We mix both.”
Lepine lamented the loss of much of traditional Dene culture in recent generations, but said she believes Pekok’s work with the culture camp and at the Friendship Centre in general is making great strides towards exposing kids from all backgrounds to the knowledge and values.
“We just want to make sure that knowledge is transmitted,” she said. “There are a lot of young people who don’t know where they belong, and this is a nice way for the kids to get a sense of who they are and where they came from.”
Shanelle Moore was a regular at the camp’s outings and said she had a great time.
“You get to go out on the beach and play,” she said. “But it’s also kind of fun learning about other people and other cultures.”
Pekok hopes funding will come through from a variety of sources so she can continue such programming into the fall. Although she has no definite plans, she said she certainly isn’t lacking in ideas for ways to reach out to all ages.
“Culture will always be a part of our programming,” she said. “Just because of who we are and the mandate of the Friendship Centre. I think this camp has made an impact on the kids. With all the community involvement, it allows the kids to connect with the elders and the important people in the community.”
— Sarah Ladik