Sask. First Nation hopes camp helps foster kids understand identity

Pasqua First Nation hosts camp that brings foster kids in care to the reserve to participate in cultural activities and meet biological family members.

Repatriation Camp is in its 4th year; activities range from teepee talks to archery to ceremony

Teepees stand beside the powwow harbour on Pasqua First Nation's Asham Beach along the south side of Pasqua Lake. The site is host to the reserve's 4th Repatriation Camp, which brings foster kids 'home' for a two-day cultural camp. (Brad Bellegarde/CBC News)

When it comes to Indigenous youth in foster care, one Saskatchewan First Nation has taken a proactive approach to cultural awareness.

Pasqua First Nation, located approximately 65 kilometres northeast of Regina, held its fourth Repatriation Camp this week at its powwow harbour, which sits on the reserve's Asham Beach. 

No matter how long they are in care ... we don't want our children growing up to feel abandoned.- Kevin Peigan, manager, Circle of Care Health Centre

The two-day camp brought kids in foster families from as far as Alberta to participate in everything from cultural ceremonies to boat rides on Pasqua Lake.

"Community is the medicine," said Kevin Peigan, manager of the Circle of Care Health Centre on Pasqua First Nation.

"It's a responsibility of our people, our tribe, our band to look after our children. Although we don't have the authority in regards to children protection services, we do have a working relationship with the province."

According to Statistics Canada, in 2011, Indigenous children accounted for seven per cent of all children in Canada but almost one-half of all foster children.

"The key objective of the repatriation camp is to keep the tie between its community, its people, the extended family of our children that are in care in the provincial system," said Peigan.

"No matter how long they are in care ... we don't want our children growing up to feel abandoned, to feel lost, that the people don't care."  

'Blood's blood'

Abraham Woo, camp co-ordinator and member of Pasqua First Nation, grew up in foster care. He said he did everything he could to fit into his foster family but something was missing.

"I avoided everything to do with native culture," said Woo.

"Everything I tried to do was to be a part of that [foster care] structure. I never remember being told it's OK to embrace the native side ... so as I grew up I got angrier and angrier."

Woo, now 22, said it wasn't until he got in touch with his biological grandmother on Pasqua First Nation that he started to find his identity.

"What she said was, 'Come down, come see us, come see your family, where you're from,'" said Woo.

What Woo thought was going to be a simple family visit ended up being a pivotal moment in his life.

"When I got [to Pasqua], she had the whole nine yards of culture set out. She had sweats and teepees. She said we're going to be 'native' for the week," he said with laugh.

Woo emphasized that as a child who grew up in care, he understands the struggle Indigenous foster kids face with identity, and he thinks the camp is a chance to work through those feelings.

He said he wants the young Pasqua First Nation children attending the camp to know, "There are people out here that will care for you ... no matter how far you run, no matter what kind of situations you've been in: blood's blood."


Brad Bellegarde

Reporter for CBC Indigenous based in Saskatchewan

Born and raised in Treaty 4 Territory, he holds an Indian Communication Arts Certificate from the First Nations University of Canada and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Regina. Follow him on Twitter @BBellegardeCBC