'One of the best years:' Campers, teachers reflect on the impact of Camp Migizi

A summer learning program for Indigenous students has come to an end but the impact of its teachings and the methods used have left students wanting more.

'The goal is to raise them up,' teaching consultant says

Coordinator, teacher and students on the impact of Camp Migizi

6 months ago
Duration 2:28
Camp Migizi came to an end on Friday July 23 but new lessons left an powerful impact on its students. 2:28

Another year has passed for students of Camp Migizi, and while the circumstances were different — smaller class sizes and virtual instruction — the response from participants was overwhelmingly positive. 

Camp Migizi, an Indigenous summer learning program, which is run through the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB), came to an end on Friday. 

"I think this year was one of the best years," Mgiizi Wright said.

Mgiizi, an 11-year-old student, has been attending the camp for the last six years. He said students were able to share more this year, which he attributed to the use of the virtual platform.

Due to the public health restrictions that were in place earlier this summer, the three-week summer learning camp was held online with 22 students — a smaller number compared to previous years. 

Camp Migizi has been running since 2014 and this year, First Nations, Metis and Inuit students in Grades 3 to 6 were invited to join. The day camp, which is a branch of Camp Wonder, focuses on enhancing literacy and math skills and incorporates Indigenous traditions and cultural teachings. 

Tina DeCastro, the teaching consultant for the camp, said much of the success of the program is based on the co-ordination and partnership with Indigenous families and the community.

"We really listened to what they felt was important to include in the summer learning experience and they wanted academic rigour and that is part of the program but they also wanted that their children were represented in what they're learning," DeCastro said. 

CBC's Chris Ensing (top left), Tina DeCastro (top right), Frazer Sundown (bottom right) and Mgiizi Wright (bottom left) discuss the impact of this year's camp. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

The program is led by elders and knowledge keepers. 

Frazer Sundown of Oneida Nation is a teacher at Camp Migizi. He has been working with the students on the water drum and social song lessons. 

"It's been very exciting because this is the age where they take in everything. They're like sponges," Sundown said. "Being able to relay that information that's been passed down to me from my elders and ancestors was important." 

Sundown works with multiple programs throughout the region. 

He agreed the virtual style of teaching was highly beneficial this year compared to other programs. 

"It creates that vibe of being comfortable in your own skin, you know, where you're at. Instead of being surrounded by institutionalized walls and things like that," Sundown said. 

"You're a lot more at home," Sundown said. "In some cases, people are actually at home."

It's been very exciting because this is the age where they take in everything. They're like sponges.- Frazer Sundown

Learning about water walkers was a new element introduced to the curriculum this year. Traditionally, women manage and carry out the role. 

Devina Kennedy, a student who has been attending the camp for three years, said this was a highlight for her. 

"I really liked focusing on the water and helping the water and I hope people feel the same," Kennedy said. 

As both Devina and Mgiizi have been attending the camp for a few years, they have developed a bond which they maintain outside as well. 

"You can come to this camp not just to learn but to find people who understand you," Devina said.

"It feels nice that you can tell someone something and not feel ashamed of it."

"It's like she said," Mgiizi said. "But it also feels like that you're teaching more people and more people because after you teach that generation, they'll probably teach the next generation and the next generation."

That's the goal of the program, DeCastro said.

"The goal is ... to raise them up and give them skills and confidence they need moving forward so it just warms my heart because my job is not to be needed. My job is to lift them and to have them be the future leaders." 

With files by Chris Ensing