By Ashley Wolfe
On our first morning, Bobbie Mangeli and I made our way to the Little Limestone Camp, located about forty-five minutes north of Grand Rapids, Manitoba. On our way up, Bobbie was able to see her first house being moved by truck, which took up both lanes of the highway.
We were greeted in camp by our Wa Ni Ska Tan contact Gail Ledoux, and her wonderful family and community. Our Elders and Knowledge Keepers for the week were Burnell, Ivan and “Mugsy,” the Kitchen crew; Carol, Catherine and MaryAnne (these women kept us so well fed, and I can still taste the berry jam, made right in camp), along with, Shanna, Tyler and Brad; they were our additional camp helpers, making sure the fires were always lit, and shelters always up.
After we set up camp, Ivan took us out on the boat; we were going to the beach to fillet a sturgeon! This is a traditional Indigenous food that has been severely impacted by hydro development, and a “real treat,” said Ivan. Pulling up to the beach, we were greeted by a beautiful bald eagle in their nest, which was so large, it was difficult to miss once you saw it come into sight.
Our second and third days were spent sharing stories, language, and playing racing games with the youth we had at the camp. The kids also went to the lake to catch minnows. Bobbie stayed at camp, while I joined Carol and Tyler to help collect further supplies in town. They learnt how to harvest Birch and each made mini canoes, with seats and paddles.
Along the highway, there is a sign that is sponsored by the Manitoba Natural Resource Officers Association and the Government of Manitoba that reads; “The Norris Lake Fire. We all paid the price $4.5 Million. Please be careful in Manitoba forests.” I asked Carol and Tyler what the sign was all about, and they had told me that in 2008, a class of students went on a camping trip, and set their garbage on fire. It inevitably got so out of control that over 43, 000 hectares of land was set on fire. The Thompson Citizen notes that at the time, “it was the largest forest fire burning out of control in the province.” (https://www.thompsoncitizen.net/nickel-belt-news/stark-reminder-4276565)
Mat Scammell joined our group, and we went out for another boat ride with Ivan and a group of youth. Ivan gave us a tour of the area, showing us where the low spots were during the last drought, an old cottage hidden in the woods, and the beautiful cliff faces from the island across the lake.
Our creative sides were able to be explored through birch bark peeling, where Ivan took us into the woods to find birch trees ready to let their bark go. We took the bark back to camp, and Burnell showed everyone how to make a birch bark canoe. This gave us the further idea to use the birch bark in another way, by making drum frames. We soaked a raw hide in water for the morning and were making drums by the afternoon. Additionally, we had a sewing and beading lesson, where I sat the youth down for a teaching on patience. Beading and sewing takes a lot of patience, so by starting with a small project like a thimble, we can build up our patience over time to grow and create larger projects and works.
On our last activity day, we spent time having the youth help us test out the water from Little Limestone Lake. The youngest ones from the group were so eager to run out to the deep part of the shore to grab us good samples for testing. We had them look at the pH colour changes, the clarity of the water through turbidity testing, and had them each take a turn pressing the read button on the Photo7500 to get their own results.
The week went by so fast. Our days were filled with so many teachings, and evenings were spent beside the fire telling stories, and laughing together. A deep connection with this community is beginning to form, and I cannot wait to visit the family and community again soon!