Peepaw Plains: Where elders host a camp for youth

A group of First Nations elders in eastern Saskatchewan is hoping that getting young people back on the land will stop what they call “the destruction of our children.”

After meeting to come up with ways to stop the drug crisis happening in their communities, they decided to hold a culture camp this summer at a traditional Indigenous meeting spot.

Peepaw Plains is where the camp was held; elders say it means “the place where life begins.”

It’s where families who refused to sign on to treaties settled and are raising their children.

The elders from nearby Cote First Nation, about 360 kilometres east of Saskatoon, say it’s where the youth need to return so they’re not lost.

A boy shows a piece of chaga from a black poplar tree. Photo: Brent McGillivray/APTN News

There was evidence the camp may be working.

“It’s called chaga off a black poplar tree,” said one boy showing off his find. “We drink it and burn it for mosquitos.”

It’s that kind of enthusiasm Elder Madeline Whitehawk wants to see.

Whitehawk attended three different residential schools over 12 years. She later spent her career as an educator and feels language education created by Indigenous people needs to be promoted.

“For a while I felt ashamed of, you know, where I was from, but as I grew older, I realized that I had to come back here,” she said.

Whitehawk said the elders are worried about young people dying from drug overdoses. They say they are attending a funeral every week.

Pat Young from Fishing Lake First Nation came to share his knowledge with the group. He says this ground is sacred and the pull to this place is strong.

“This is where they always met, historically, to talk about important things, especially life, preserving your way of life,” he said.

“For us, life is knowing our language, our culture and our traditional way of life that really matters, and these are people that did not sign treaties that originally lived here.”

This was the first year of Camp Peepaw, but the elders are hoping to make it an annual event.

Leanne has a certificate in broadcasting and has more than 12 years of radio news experience, both as an anchor and reporter in Saskatchewan and Alberta. The Métis journalist is a passionate writer and born storyteller and loves to connect with people and learn about their life experiences.