By James Wastasecoot
In 1984, Peguis School Board began building a camp on reserve land located on the shore of Lake Winnipeg about 40 minutes by car north of Peguis. The camp now has a main living quarters equipped with a generator, kitchen and bunk rooms for overnight stays.
In 2011, the community of Peguis completed a Comprehensive Community Plan identifying the key issues confronting the community’s growth and development. A vision statement and strategies for achieving goals were delineated for major areas. The following excerpt pertains to education (Life Long Learning, p37):
“The traditional way of life and extended family system that transmitted basic values and life skills to each new generation has in many ways become fragmented and children are growing up without knowing who they are, without being able to speak their language and having mastered traditional skills, and without knowing what their responsibilities and rights are as Peguis people.
4. As a consequence of the issues described in points 1, 2 and 3 above, Peguis School is struggling with low attendance and high dropout rates, as well as a student population with significant social and behavioural problems.”
The Peguis school land-based program is an effort to address the challenge of language retention and promoting our ancestor’s knowledge and values from living off the land,” said Berny McCorrister. “It is a work in progress.” Busloads of students arrive each week during most of the school year to hike, fish, prepare food, cook, and enjoy meals, all under the careful guidance of elders and teachers who accompany them. “An Ojibwe speaker is essential who is able to interpret and reinforce language skills learned in the classroom,” said McCorrister.
At the camp, the following activities are currently offered:
Workshops and traditional pursuits under the guidance of experienced hunters and trappers, elders and teachers. Students from grade 1 to 12 are provided day excursions to the camp to participate in outdoor traditional pursuits on the land and water including fishing, trapping and exploring. An indigenous language speaker accompanies classes to reinforce language lessons taught in the classroom.
Peguis Central School has a resident elder who provides advice and performs ceremonies for key events.
Elders are part of the school program, providing assistance such as counselling and diverting students who require guidance.
A curriculum is being developed based on local and other community experiences and knowledge.
Professional development workshops offered by Manitoba First Nation Education Resource Centre and other education institutions continue to influence our efforts to strengthen the program.
Peguis Central School has developed a curriculum on Land-based education which is to be unveiled soon.