Whitehorse students get trip of a lifetime harvesting a bison

For the last 19 years Grade 7 students at Elijah Smith Elementary School have participated in a weeklong winter cultural camp. With the added bonus of hunting a bison, this year was a success.

Elijah Smith Elementary students have successful bison hunt

Bull bison on the skyline. (Jim Welsh)

Fresh bannock, bison sliders and kabobs are one way into people's hearts.

That's how Elijah Smith Elementary School's Grade 7 students showed their appreciation for organizing the trip of a lifetime.

Grade 7 students at Elijah Smith Elementary School celebrate a successful Bison hunt. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

The students, who recently returned from a successful weeklong bison hunt, served their bounty with younger students at the school last week.

Students from Elijah Smith Elementary School enjoy bannock on a stick. (Mike Rudyk/ CBC)

"We are very, very lucky we are able to do this here for our children," said Grade 7 teacher Rebecca Bradford-Andrew, who said the trip is in its 19th year.

Rebecca Bradford-Andrew feels grateful for the community support behind the cultural camp. (Mike Rudyk/CBC )

She has been involved in the school's Asheyi Winter Culture Camp and bison hunt for 10 years.

The camp was held in the first week of March this year, near Aishihik Lake, in the traditional territory of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. Students spent a week winter camping and learning traditional skills.

Grade 7 student Maddison Cave says the trip was a chance of a lifetime.

'Most of the kids don't like doing this stuff and most of them came out and had a blast doing it,' said Madison Cave. (Chris Cave)

"Most of the kids don't like doing this stuff, and most of them came out and had a blast doing it," she said, adding the trip gave her lifelong memories with her friends.

Volunteers, parents and teachers all participated in the experience.

Bradford-Andrew says 90 community organizations helped out to make the trip a success this year.

Grade 7 students at Elijah Smith Elementary School serve bison sliders and fresh bannock to classmates. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

The hunt

Bradford-Andrews said the hunt was "amazing." 

"It is primarily a cultural camp, on-the-land learning," she said. 

"If we get a bison, it is an added bonus — but if we don't, it's not a big deal. We have years where we don't get bison, but this year we are very lucky to harvest a bison. It was a eight-year-old bull."

Three conservation officers joined the class this year. They taught students about the bison ecosystem, where the bison travel, and how big the herd is. (Jim Welsh)

Three conservation officers joined the class this year to teach students about the bison, their ecosystem, where the bison travel and how big the herd has grown over the years.

Students also studied southern Tutchone language, fishing and beading. They listened to stories around the fire with 97-year-old elder Paddy Jim, who grew up in the area.

Environment Yukon conservation officer Kevin Johnstone leads the bison hunt. (Jim Welsh )

Unpredictable Weather

March in the Yukon is known for cold nights and warm days. This year is no different.

"The weather was phenomenal — we had –32 C for two mornings in a row where the children slept in a wall tent under the stars," said Bradford-Andrew, who said the days warmed up to become "warm and balmy."

She says she's had had many years where it's been –40 C and that makes things very difficult. 

Champagne and Aishihik First Nations elder Paddy Jim shows students how to cut up bison at Elijah Smith Elementary School. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

"The school has been lucky enough to purchase 30 good heavy-duty sleeping bags, so when we do experience a Walmart sleeping bag, we make sure we pack a big bag for that child," said Bradford-Andrew, jokingly describing a trick she uses to get certain people to help out at the campsite.

"We don't give parents good sleeping bags because we need them to wake up and put wood in the fire, it's an old trick."

Thirty students participated in this year's Asheyi Winter Culture Camp and bison hunt. (Jim Welsh)

Bradford-Andrew said every year she's shocked and grateful for the generosity that allows the school to plan the culture camp and hunt.

"There is a really solid core of community members who believe that getting kids on the land makes them into stronger citizens," she said.

About the Author

Mike Rudyk

Reporter, CBC Yukon

Mike Rudyk has worked for CBC Yukon since 1999, as a reporter and videographer. He lives in Whitehorse.

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