Indigenous summer camps appeal to Aboriginal youth
Providing Aboriginal youth a voice proved a wise investment in planning the fourth annual UBC Indigenous Summer Scholars Camp.
What started out in 2012 as a weeklong day camp for 12-14 year-olds, has evolved into two youth camps with off-campus programming and on-campus accommodation for participants.
A total of 14 Aboriginal youth, aged 12-14, took part in the Indigenous Summer Scholars Camp while 17, aged 15-17, participated in the Indigenous Summer Leadership Camp.
Using survey feedback from previous years, the camps were improved from a grassroots level.
Initial survey results showed students wanted more of a university experience, including staying on campus. By providing a housing option in the second year, the camp boundaries expanded beyond the North and Central Okanagan. This summer, the range that campers came from expanded significantly — from the Okanagan, Beaverdell and Merritt, to places outside the region such as Squamish, Burns Lake, Edmonton, Manitoba and Vancouver Island.
Aboriginal Student Advisor Kelly Fosbery and Summer Camp Coordinator Danielle Jerowsky played lead roles in organizing the two camps. The pair used student survey feedback from the previous year to shape this year’s programming.
“The feedback was to expand and have an overlap between the two camps. This helped the older students practice their leadership and mentorship skills. And it helped us all get to know each other better,” said Fosbery who credits Jerowsky for her dedication and mentorship role. “The Leadership students were excited about planning the dinner and they spread themselves out to meet and help out the Scholar campers and their families.
“Some of the other feedback was that they wanted more free time. We built this in and trusted our leadership campers to embrace the opportunity with maturity. More free time can be scary with teenagers. But everyone respected the camp and respected each other’s roles. In this year’s feedback surveys, campers appreciated being trusted and treated like adults as they learned their leadership roles.”
Fosbery went on to say the camp was positive on other levels — like having Westbank First Nation (WFN) member Jordan Coble, a former UBC Aboriginal Access Studies student, return to talk about leadership within the Okanagan Nation.
Coble, the WFN Curatorial Heritage Researcher, led both groups on a tour of the land through Kalamoir Regional Park and told traditional stories from his people. “Fire becomes a guiding light for the spirit. Not only does it keep us warm, but it’s sacred to us. It is a medicine.”
The UBC alumni was candid about his journey through the teenage years. “I missed out a lot on things when I was young because I was too lazy. I didn’t go to (summer) camps because I wanted to sleep in.
“I missed out on a lot of opportunities. I tell you this because we have to learn from our past as we prepare for our future.”
Coble talked about how learning is a lifelong journey and shared how he is currently taking classes to learn his nation’s language – Nsyilxcen.
Indigenous Scholars campers took part in events like a human kinetics workshop with Dr. Zoe Soon, FINA gallery tour, medical building orientation with James Andrew, silk screening, storytelling workshop with Dr. Allison Hargreaves, Michael Smith’s creative writing workshop and the popular zombie math workshop with Dr. Ben Tippett.
Leadership campers enjoyed Okanagan Nation Elder Eric Mitchell’s talk on pre-contact leadership within the Nation, creating art with Tannis Nielson, the Equity & Diversity’s Active Witnessing workshop, Laura Prada’s assertiveness training, an interactive Go Global presentation and an off-campus EXIT Kelowna activity.
Leadership camper Kendra Sampson took a leap of faith to travel to the Okanagan.
“The workshops are fantastic. The active witnessing (workshop) showed me the difference between being passive, assertive and aggressive,” said the Siska Band member. “I thought I was always assertive, but I found out I have been more aggressive. I need to pull back a bit because if you come across as being aggressive it’s not respectful.
“The difference between an active witness and a passive witness is an active witness is able to intervene without putting blame on someone” she added.
The Indigenous Summer Leadership Camp worked with the UBC Community Service Learning Program to get Leadership participants volunteering off campus. Leadership campers painted, cleaned and organized rooms at the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society (KFS) in downtown Kelowna. KFS Executive Director Edna Terbasket appreciated the link to the Community Service Learning Program.
“I was impressed by how dedicated the students were. They really showed up to work. They were only there a few hours but a couple of them came close to completely painting one of our bathrooms by themselves,” said Terbasket. “They accomplished a lot in a short period of time.”
Desiree Wecoup from The Pas, Manitoba traveled the furthest distance to take part in the Leadership camp. “It was fun. I like being around different people and to get out of my comfort zone,” said the 17-year-old. “I liked helping out at the Friendship Centre and going out on the hike.
“I just wish it wasn’t ending so early. It really went by fast.”
Jerowsky was involved in all aspects of planning and coordinating the camps. The fourth year Science student was excited to be involved in planning the new leadership piece.
“When looking at programming for the Leadership Camp, we wanted to incorporate the importance of volunteering, being confident and looking at providing tools they could use throughout the week with the younger campers,” said Jerowsky who will start her second year as an Aboriginal Mentor next month. “When many students think of university, arts and sciences come to mind. We wanted to show them all the diversity offered here.”