The Young Indigenous Women’s Circle of Leadership (YIWCL), a University of Alberta camp, helped young Indigenous women learn cultural teachings and reclaim the Cree language. The camp taught through art activities, creative theatre, storytelling, cultural crafts, and ceremonies.
The summer camp was held from July 12 to 24, on the U of A North Campus and was open to young Indigenous women from the ages of 12 to 18. The camp brought in Cree immersion teachers, elders, and knowledge keepers who helped to teach the girls Indigenous knowledge, traditions, and history.
Heather Blair, a camp organizer and a professor in literacy and language education, said the camp focuses on Indigenous teenage girls as they believe them to be the “most vulnerable in Canadian and urban settings.”
“[They are] youth that really need support as they come to understand who they are as young Indigenous women in this world and what their roots are, what their cultural teachings are, and all those things are all embedded in language,” Blair said.
Christina Buffalo, a YIWCL program coordinator, said the camp tried to immerse participants in the Cree language.
“[We try] to do as much immersion as we can. Sometimes it’s not a 100 per cent immersion experience but we try and stick to that standard of an immersion lesson,” Buffalo said.
Some of the camp activities included hoop dancing, sewing, beadwork, and the crafting of small tipis and leather rattles.
“The girls were thrilled [with the leather rattles because] … they love hands-on kinds of things and they have something to take home,” Blair said.
Blair said the camp had a nice turnout and that the camp participants received “good, solid language learning” as well as “all other kinds of cultural teachings.”
The camps started out as a summer event, however, Buffalo said the group has expanded to the fall and spring. In the future, YIWCL will continue to offer summer camps and other year-round programming.
“[In future camps], I think we’re looking at something very similar to what we did this year,” Buffalo said. “[We’ll be] learning from the things that didn’t quite work and trying to tweak those — that’s kind of what we’ve been doing year after year with our summer camp because [summer camps] are our biggest [program].”
“Over the fall, winter, [and] spring, we are developing some new programs and [continuing to develop] some of the things we’ve tried already. So we’re here for and excited about the possibilities,” Blair said.
Blair thanked those who were involved in the camps.
“[I would like] to thank the elders for all their support and the instructors — we have some excellent instructors with this program,” Blair said. “And the girls, [I want to] thank them for their eager ways of being and the joys they brought us this summer.”