School board's Camp Wonder brings cultural learning to Indigenous students

A summer learning program offered through the Greater Essex County District School Board has a camp just for Indigenous students.

First Nations, Metis and Inuit students from junior kindergarten to grade 7 can enrol in this camp

Indigenous students from junior kindergarten to grade 7 can sign up for this three-week day camp to learn about their culture alongside sharpening their numeracy and literacy skills. (Arms Bumanlag/CBC)

What starts out as a lesson on the history of beading and looming from an Indigenous knowledge keeper, quickly turns into a numeracy class where students practice adding and multiplying to create their own beading patterns.

That transition between cultural learning and lessons on numbers and literacy is happening over three weeks at Camp Migizi, a program offered by the Greater Essex County District School Board for First Nations, Metis and Inuit students from junior kindergarten to grade 7.

"The learning always begins with that knowledge keeper, so we have that authentic voice coming in here, helping those students to build that sense of identity and community," said Tina DeCastro, a teacher consultant at the camp.

Camp Migizi is part of a summer learning program called Camp Wonder at the school board, which offers recreation and swimming programs aside from lessons to enhance literacy and math skills.

Tina DeCastro says the students have the opportunity to learn either Ojibwe or Oneida in the camp, which is an opportunity they wouldn't normally have during the regular school year. (Arms Bumanlag/CBC)

Indigenous curriculum change 'extremely upsetting'

Ontario's Ministry of Education announced last week it has cancelled the project to update provincial curriculum documents with Indigenous content.

The writing sessions were supposed to start that week, but they were halted last minute, according to several Indigenous educators who were expected to be involved.

"It's extremely upsetting to me," DeCastro said.

"It doesn't impact the camp and what we do here at the camp. But as an educator, I think it's really important that we continue to look at how we incorporate the truth and reconciliation calls to action in the classrooms."

But the school board is going to continue on its path regardless of the mandate, she said.

"We will continue to do the work that needs to be done to ensure that that truth is taught in the classrooms."

Learning cultural identity

One of the main goals of the camp is to teach the students about their culture and get them to "feel confident in their own identity," said DeCastro.

The knowledge keepers are a big part of that, as well as being able to connect with other Indigenous students at the camp.

During the school year they're spread across the Windsor-Essex area, but for three weeks, they can come together and form a community.

And when the students return to the camps year after year, the friendships are maintained.

"It's like no time has passed for them, and you can tell those friendships have been continued throughout the year even though the students don't attend the same school," she said.

Camp Migizi also offers students an option to learn either Ojibwe or Oneida from a language educator.

"Our main focus here at Greater Essex is really that revitalization and as many opportunities for our Indigenous students to learn the languages that were not given the opportunity to do so in the past," she said.

With files from Arms Bumanlag