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PHOTOS: Prince George students learn from Elders at special Outdoor Education Camp

More than 400 students connected with nature and learned from Indigenous Elders

Prince George students had a unique opportunity to reconnect with nature this week and learn from local Elders.

Primary and intermediate students from Van Bien and Westwood Elementary Schools participated in a special field trip called Elders Outdoor Education Camp that connected them with Knowledge-Holders and, despite a little rain, the wonders of nature.

“It’s about reconnecting with the land and reconnecting with community and I’m hoping that it will help to forge and maintain those relationships that we have with the community Elders and expose the students to some of the places they’ve never been before,” says Vanessa Elton, environmental education and First People’s Principles of learning resource teacher for School District No. 57 (SD57).

Elton says she was inspired to create the Outdoor Elders Education Camp from Kairyn Russell-Janecke, Principal of SD57's McBride Centennial Elementary School.

Russell-Janecke started a similar program six years ago at Beaver Creek Lodge and Cabins.

“She showed me a whole school-wide event she does with Elders and I thought what an incredible opportunity with the entire school having the same learning experience about nature and with Elders,” says Elton. “I thought let’s do this for the urban students.”

More than 400 students attended the camp yesterday (May 16) and today (May 17) held at Camp Hughes, which is a Scouts Canada camp located off Blackwater Road at West Lake.

“It’s interesting too because for some of them it’s out of their comfort zone because they’ve never used an outhouse before, so those kinds of comforts,” says Elton. “One class saw a black bear yesterday and they just loved it. For other kids, it was their first time building a fire – lots of firsts. It’s really neat to be able to be a part of that.”

Some of the activities the kids participated in included Lahal, a traditional First Nations game, Capture the Flag, plant and insect studies, survival skills, bannock making, an introduction to drums and rattles, and fireside time.

Local Elders who shared their wisdom and experiences with the students included College of New Caledonia instructor Bruce Allan, Brenda Nome, Doris Prince, and Theresa Nelson.  

Staff from the SD57’s Aboriginal Education department were also on site to facilitate the camp.

“It’s a massive collaboration and to see so many people, and the Elders who are passionate about getting the kids outside and providing that learning opportunity for them, is fantastic,” says Elton.

Some of the others participating included Lynn Westcott, an entomologist from Smithers, B.C. and D.P. Todd teacher Ian Leitch with his Outdoor Education students.

This special field trip was also made possible by a Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation Go Grant, which helped to offset the cost of transportation to and from the camp, a 30-minute commute outside of Prince George.

“The cost of transportation can be a barrier for getting kids outside,” says Elton.

As this is the first year for the Elders Outdoor Education Camp, Elton says they’ll be providing feedback forms to learn about everyone’s experience, but she hopes the camp will become an annual event.

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