Muskrat camp: On the land with Yukon students

About 50 Yukon students spent time with trappers and elders this week at an annual muskrat camp hosted by Kluane Lake School.

Annual camp brings students together to trap, skin, scrape and eat muskrat

Ryan Sealy shows off a lynx which was provided by a trapper in Pelly Crossing. He later carved up some lynx for the students to eat. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

About 50 students from around the Yukon were out on the trapline this week for an annual muskrat camp, where they were learning about trapping, fishing, navigation and other land skills.

The camp began more than 10 years ago and is organized with help from Kluane Lake School, the Kluane First Nation, Dan Keyi Renewable Resources Council, the Burwash Landing Recreation Committee, the Kluane Lake School Council, the Burwash Landing school committee and community volunteers.

This year, students from Whitehorse were invited to join those from Destruction Bay, Burwash Landing, Beaver Creek and Haines Junction. They ranged from Grade 4 to 8.

Samara Van Lieshout was one of them. The eight-year-old from St. Elias Community School, in Haines Junction, got to travel on the back of a snowmobile to see how muskrat are caught.

"We got four!" she said, holding one up.

Samara Van Lieshout, a student at St. Elias Community School, in Haines Junction, proudly holds one of four muskrat caught on Tuesday. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Later, students saw the muskrats skinned and scraped with tools made of moose bone. The skins go to local artists to make mittens and hats, while students at the muskrat camp cooked the meat for eating.

The muskrat camp is held at Lake Creek Campground and in a habitat protected area called the Pickhandle Lakes, which lies in Kluane First Nation and White River First Nation traditional territory.

Alyce Johnson is a Kluane First Nation citizen and the principal of Kluane Lake School in Destruction Bay.

She said the annual camp teaches students about the land and their relationship with animals.

Kluane First Nation elder Margaret Johnson helps scrape muskrat with a moose bone tool. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

"This is an ecosystem that's very important to Kluane First Nation," she said. "What we want the children to leave here with, is to understand that relationship with this ecosystem, as well as this watershed area."

Ryan Sealy, who works with the Yukon government's trapper education program, guided students through skinning muskrat and using a stretching board this year.

"It's great to be invited to where I like to be — the outdoors, with kids who are interested in learning about this kind of thing," Sealy said.

Elders were also on hand at the camp, to share their knowledge with students.

Mary Easterson, a Southern Tutchone elder, watches as the children interact. The camp brings in elders to hold workshops on making dry meat, bone tools, traditional medicines and about Indigenous languages. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Mary Easterson, a citizen of Kluane First Nation and an elder from Burwash Landing, said many of the students already learned to cut and dry meat at a young age.

She was helping them make dry moose meat at the camp.  

"The kids love it. It's like candy for them," she said. "It's really important to our culture because it's food they can use anytime of the year."