Outdoor classroom in the N.W.T. perfect for language, culture

A fire and tent replaces desks and chairs.

There’s something about being outside that’s putting learning into focus for high school students in the Northwest Territories.

Milder weather means a break from the classroom and the opportunity to sit in front of a roaring fire.

“How do you say fireplace?” asks Language Arts teacher Paul Boucher of Paul William Kaeser High School in Fort Smith.

“kún k’é means fire in Dene yati.”

This Culture Camp, complete with a large tent, is Boucher’s preferred teaching venue.

“It’s important that the kids learn,” said Boucher, who teaches Grade 9 Chipewyan, Cree, English and French students.

“It grounds them, (they) get some identity; (it’s) just a time to relax and get away from the school work.”

As the students grab sticks to roast pieces of bannock over the flames, Boucher finds teachable moments.

“Oh, you are going to cook a big piece of bannock, eh? Say Kesh-kay.”

The space is so popular that even some of Boucher’s older students stop by.

“I like how they are starting to embrace the other languages more, like putting Chip(ewyan) and Cree in Oh Canada,” says Rylie MacDonald.

“It’s better than being in class and doing work, because you get to practice stuff you’ll get to use for the rest of your life,” adds Sanis Villeneuve.

Boucher believes the hands-on learning is paying off.

“We’re hoping that we can create a new community of speakers,” he says.

“We have to evolve the language, which is important, and doing this right here really helps with the language.”

On the agenda for the following week is processing fish and creating traditional crafts.

“It makes me proud because I have the opportunity to come out here and speak the language,” says student Dante Kay-Grenier.

“I try sometimes at home, yeah, try to teach my brother, my sister.”

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