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Eagle Spirit Camp a lesson for youth and leaders

The Eagle Spirit Science Futures summer camp gathers Indigenous youth every year from across Turtle Island to McGill University’s campus. (Courtesy David Allen)

Working with Indigenous youth is always an opportunity to ground yourself and open your mind. The cultural energy that surrounds Indigenous innocence is wonderful in so many ways.

Mi’kmaq, Anishinaabe, Metis, Inuit, Cree, Ojibwe and Kanien’kehá:ka youth travel to McGill University in Montreal annually to participate in a week of science-themed activities and tackle modern issues, such as climate change and water pollution, as well as deeper community issues.

In addition to learning about science, the youth at Eagle Spirit Camp dove into community issues that taught instructors like Kahenientha Cross (right) a thing or two. (Courtesy David Allen)

This author was gifted the chance to join them as a camp leader, a position where the moderators learn just as much, if not more, than the kids.

McGill’s Eagle Spirit Science Futures camp is a jam-packed week of everything you would want out of an indigenized summer camp in Tio’tia:ke (Montreal).

It being my first time with the ESSF squad, I was expecting the cliché camp counsellor experience where the kids go nuts and run around, while I try to keep them from killing each other.

Don’t get me wrong. There was still some of that action, but it was accompanied with a lot of brainstorming and breaking down barriers that many people wouldn’t expect from pre-teens.

Bridges were made and I was able to witness some pretty amazing stuff, such as kids openly sharing their stories with each other. Some shared about grief and others of addictions in their communities, and to hear these stories from someone so young is an eye-opening experience.

Before the camp got started the councillors and camp leaders were put through the typical four-hour preparation session to get them in the right mindset to handle grumpy pre-teens for a week, along with a heads up of the intense conversations that would be taking place throughout the camp.

A bunch of sugar-rushed 12 year olds doesn’t sound too appealing to many people, but there comes a medicine and peace of mind with all the craziness of pre-teen insanity.

Their witty remarks and smart comments make you want to choke them while at the same time appreciate their bluntness. Their ludicrous ideas aren’t so insane once you sit down and see what they are envisioning.

The Eagle Spirit Camp at McGill University reaches across nations and gives Indigenous youth a chance to check out university-level science labs. (Courtesy David Allen)

Honesty was at its purest, and that is where communication flourishes. (Something us adults need to start understanding.)

Suicide, addictions, multigenerational trauma, everything I was introduced to in my first year at college was the main mandate of this youth camp, and the kids handled it better than most young adults I know.

Ideas that aren’t brought up in classrooms came through with ease in the social work discussion.

Opening up about community issues and how to fix them isn’t something you’d expect to be a discussion topic with 12 year olds, yet they did a better job than my classmates would have.

Strategies to challenge climate change in the science fair/gallery walk were unbiased and based solely on what their young minds thought was best for Mother Earth.

The camp itself is made for the campers to learn and bring their experience back to their communities to help in any way they can, but here I am, a non-camper, relishing in the lessons I learned with the students.

Lessons like teamwork, passions, communication and collaboration.

Being culturally-sensitive and not allowing the social butterflies to over shadow the wallflowers, who bring just as much to the table.

We tend to think that protecting the youth from all the hardships will eventually save them from the pains and aches of life, but this camp showed otherwise.

Suicide awareness and addressing very serious and complex subjects were discussed often in the group of young intelligent minds, and they didn’t shy away.

I’m guilty of wanting to sugarcoat everything and anything related to what we consider ‘touchy topics,’ yet we only consider them sensitive because we avoid addressing them entirely.

We can learn so much from the youth if we allow them to speak without restrictions.

“We can learn so much from the youth if we allow them to speak without restriction,” wrote the author of this piece, who had her eyes opened by the youth she was tasked with counselling. (Courtesy David Allen)

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