Thursday and Friday of this week was cultural orientation for teachers.
The principal was away for the week, which meant it was just us girls at the school. On Thursday we had an Elder come spend the day with us. His name is Johnny.
Johnny is man of laughter and joy. Johnny is pretty sure he is 77 years old. Within Dene culture, your age starts when you are baptized. In small communities they do not always have access to a priest right when a baby is born. When Johnny was born his parents made the journey to a neighboring town for his baptism. This journey took months and was on foot. Johnny was born in October and was baptized in February. He now celebrates his birthday in February.
We had the opportunity to listen to Johnny’s story and to learn about traditional Dene medicines. He spoke in his native dialect, Slavey. His niece was able to translate for us. Early in the day I asked him if he would be willing to share about his experiences in residential school. He was more than willing and brought it up a few times throughout the day. His niece explained that there is rarely an opportunity for people in Colville to speak about their experiences. Talking about it brings healing. Johnny’s story is not mine to share, but is one that has impacted my view of residential schools and the generational trauma that has resulted.
The Slavey teacher taught us how to make moose stew and bannock. I am learning the difference between different meats and the importance of proper preparations. Moose meat can smell quite bad, which impacts the taste. We were taught how to properly season the meat to mask the smell. Moose meat doesn't get much fresher than the stuff we use here in Colville. As we cut the meat up for the stew we also had to remove the moose hair that was still attached. It was a very unique experience. The soup was delicious!
After our meal together we drove into the bush and made tea over a fire. As we drank our tea Johnny told us more stories. I was able to record a lot of his story as it was being translated. I hope to find a way to honor his story.
The next morning we met at the school and the Slavey teacher taught us how to make beaver mittens. Jenn and I were VERY excited about this opportunity. Jenn chose to make her mittens out of rabbit fur and I choose to use the traditional beaver hide. I will show pictures of our mittens once we are finished …. Hand stitching fur is a long process.
I look forward to learning more about the Dene culture. In the coming weeks I have many opportunities to experience new things. Community members are going to scout out the barren lands to see if the Caribou are migrating yet. If they find Caribou the families will pack up and go set up camp for a week. My students often speak of their time on the land and tell me how much fun it is. The men go hunt while the ladies cook and care for the children. At night they make a huge fire and play games. There is talk of us teachers visiting our students out in the barren lands.
I truly love Colville Lake. I am learning and growing so much - both professionally and personally.