New space gives Cree students a place for traditional learning in Waswanipi

The Cree community of Waswanipi inaugurated a cultural camp for high school students to learn Cree culture in a culturally appropriate space.

Waswanipi high school inaugurates cultural camp in the school yard

Students in inside new culture camp in Waswanipi, Que. (Jacques Larouche)

More than 150 people attended a community inauguration Tuesday of a special space where Cree high school students will learn about their indigenous culture. 

The Sabtuan Culture Camp is built right beside Willie J. Happyjack High School in Waswanipi, Que. 

It is an 18-by-6 metre wood longhouse, built to give students a culturally appropriate place to learn and practice traditional activities such as skinning a moose, snowshoe making, goose preparation and bannock making, among others. 

Members of the community gathered in Waswanipi for the inauguration of a culture camp at the high school. (Jacques Larouche)

Cree culture classes that are part of the curriculum in Cree School Board schools will begin here in the next week or so. 

For Louis Saganash, who teaches Cree culture at the school, it will make a big difference to his work. 

The new Waswawnipi culture camp, built in the manner of a traditional longhouse, viewed from outside. (Jacques Larouche)

"It will be used by all levels in school — elders will be invited to teach traditional skills," said Saganash. "I can invite elders to tell traditional stories." 

Inside the new Waswanipi culture camp. (Jacques Larouche)

Right now high school students in Waswanipi get their Cree culture lessons in a regular classroom, which is not always a place where elders want to visit.

Many elders have bad memories from residential school, according to Robert Laperle, vice principal of Waswanipi's Rainbow Elementary School.  

A culture camp project at the elementary school in 2017 was part of the inspiration for this one.

A gathering inside the new Waswanipi culture camp longhouse. (Jacques Larouche)

The structure came together over the last year thanks to a community effort.

Claude and Jack Cooper, who are both maintenance workers at the elementary school, worked in the evening along with many community volunteers.

Claude Cooper, left, Nick Polson, and Shawn Isik work on the longhouse. (Jacques Larouche)

Funding for the project included $40,000 from the Cree School Board, and another $20,000 from the federal government. 

"We have created something special in the community," said Laperle.  

Inside the new Waswanipi culture camp longhouse. (Jacques Larouche)