'This is a beginning' London summer camp takes a step toward reconciliation
Half of the children at camp Kee-Mo-Kee identify as Indigenous.
A London summer camp is taking a step toward reconciliation by hosting children from Indigenous communities across Southwestern Ontario.
More than half of the campers at camp Kee-Mo-Kee, which kicked off Sunday, identify as Indigenous. Last year, that number would've been closer to five per cent.
For the first time in six decades, the overnight camp in Komoka is introducing a new theme this year: Canadian Heritage Week.
About 90 children are immersing themselves in a cultural experience this week by assembling Indigenous crafts and learning about traditional teachings and languages.
"Originally, we thought it was great thing for the local First Nations communities to come out and have something for them," said director Ian Brooks. "But it's been an amazing experience for anyone because campers who aren't from those communities (are) getting a taste of that culture."
Several local community organizations and church groups poured money into the camp, providing a subsidy for children from Chippewas, Oneida and Munsee-Delaware First Nations.
Ontario is home to more than 300,000 Indigenous people, with eight Indigenous communities surrounding London in Southwestern Ontario.
Truth and Reconciliation
However, the camp's church affiliation has caused several Indigenous families suffering with intergenerational trauma to back out.
"I had parents coming and saying they're going to take their kids out and then I was questioned why I was coming," said Cynthia Tribe, a Kettle and Stony Point First Nations woman working in Chippewas.
The librarian said some parents decided to back out because the residential school system was administered by Christian churches across Canada.
Tribe said the staff's commitment toward recognizing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report - including resident school systems - encouraged her to help out.
"I thought there is no reason why I can't come, I'm here to support the kids and play my part with the reconciliation ."
The 2015 commission published 94 calls to action urging all levels to government to repair the harm caused by the residential school systems in Canada. The report asks for change in policies and programs including child welfare, education and health.
Beyond the summer
"What can we do to help with truth and reconciliation?" asked Mary Ann Hodge, chair for the board of directors at the camp, following a workshop she attended at the Oneida United Church that inspired her to transform the camp.
Hodge developed the heritage week program that she wants to see continue for the next three years. By then, she hopes Indigenous campers move on to become counsellors to help continue the program.
Hodge said the camp currently has one Indigenous counsellor out of more than 20.
Hear from the campers
Mia Polakovic, 12, London
"(First Nations people) were the first people here … I'm learning about them," she said. "I had no idea there were so many people that were so different."
Gregory Memphis Cruise, 9, Oneida First Nations of the Thames
"We've played Lacrosse, then we had swimming … there was dance and a run," he said. "I played Lacrosse. We used to call it the medicine game until people from Europe came over and they called it across and it got popular."
Dontae Raymond, 10, London
"I will hang my dream catcher right beside where I sleep. It should catch all the bad dreams," he said.
Tati Geroge, 9, Oneida First Nations of the Thames
"The elder showed a sacred feather and sand songs in Ojibway. We sang along," he said.