These kids can make their own fire.
They have to if they are to learn how to make bógǫǫ̀, the traditional dene food – dry meat.
It’s just another school day for Kids U a program offered by Dechinta Bush University in the Northwest Territories.
Dechinta is a university accredited school which offers courses in Indigenous studies. The school is in partnership with the University of Alberta, the University of British Columbia and McGill University.
Students complete a semester by spending weeks on the land in a camp setting learning practical skills and textbook-style scholarly literature centered around northern Indigenous values.
All the while the students are encouraged to bring their children to camp.
“I was rushing and rushing and rushing yesterday that’s why my arms are tired,” Dominic Mandeville a student at Kids U exclaimed while setting down his finished dry meat.
The kids are put to work learning land based skills like fire making and harvesting food and medicine.
It’s peace of mind for mothers like Cheryl Mandeville, mother of Dominic.
“I told his teacher what we were doing and that we would be away for the month and he was like ‘awesome, he can learn way more out there than he can in here,’” she said.
Kids U expects the children to complete the same daily tasks as their parents. This means collecting materials to hang their dry meat and firewood to smoke it.
“He made dry meat today, he has done his fish. They went to visit an eagle nest and we have gotten Ori together for our beds. Just everything involved in maintaining camp,” Mandeville said.
Dechinta has been around for nearly a decade and a number of the graduates go on to careers in Indigenous leadership.
Kids U Instructor Justina Black is an alumna of the program. She works with the children and parents to ensure they learn alongside one another.
“For Indigenous people, we have kids with us a lot and I think that is really important for us to keep the relationships we maintain in the community, and having the different energies in the camp as well,” Black said.
There are three parents and three kids in camp for this fall semester.
Black smiled as she told APTN News about the growth each Kids U student makes over the year.
Her job is to connect the children with the land and with themselves.
“It is really important for me to give back to the community and continue passing it [knowledge] on as a Dene person. Passing on the ways, it is a part of our lifestyle so I think it is important for me to pass on what I can to these kids,” Black said.
A few days ago Dechinta staff shot a moose. It was a long day to skin and quarter up the animal but according to Mandeville, the kids stayed up to help without complaints.
“It is being part of all of the different little processes, he [Dominic] is being involved. Which is the most important thing,” she said.
At the end of each day Kids U takes five minutes to sit by the water in silence and reflect.
This is combined with a daily journal the kids draw in.
Dominic proudly pointed to his journal and the bógǫǫ̀ he has drawn.
It will be something he can show his mother and something he can look back on at the end of the semester when he returns to regular elementary school.