It was a fun four days at Makwa Sahgaiehcan’s 2019 Land-Based Learning fishing derby.
Tuesday was their biggest and final day, with nearly 200 of the almost 520 students over the four-day event taking part. Students from across the area travelled to Makwa Lake for the educational event, which covered many aspects of the student's curriculum, something the program specializes in.
Teachers said their students struggled to contain their excitement leading up to the event, and for the educators, they knew valuable knowledge was about to be gained. Spearheading it all is Delane Graham, the coordinator of the Land-Based Learning Program at Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation School (MSFNS).
Graham said there was nothing comparable to the land-based learning for himself growing up. He was taught the importance of First Nations culture by his family and elders in the community. When he was finally able to decide what he wanted to do with his life, the idea of being able to teach the different aspects and cultures of Indigenous people was too tough to pass up. Graham said when deciding on what programs to do throughout the year, the idea of a fishing derby was one that stuck with him and something he really pushed to make happen.
“I believe all kids should know how to ice fish, how to go to powwows and round dances, to ceremonies, and know the protocols behind it,” he said.
Students came to the event with either their own fishing rods or used ones supplied by the program, which were simply sticks with a fishing line, hook and bait, hoping to catch the big one. The supplied bait was fresh moose heart, which Graham said works excellent. He said a lot of the program is trial and error, putting the ideas into the hands of the students, and letting them learn by doing rather than being taught in a classroom setting.
It wasn’t just the students who were learning at the event, however. Teachers and facilitators were being educated in many of the traditional settings through the program. The educators said they were being taught small tricks, and picking up tips from students and other educators about living off of the land, the ability to use different items, and fishing in general.
Holding an event like this in the winter does bring challenges. Graham and the other facilitators were forced to cancel the back half of last week's fishing derby due to the brutally cold weather that struck the area. Even though it was a small setback, Graham continued to work the phones to ensure the derby continued on. They rescheduled those days and created two separate days of fishing- Monday and Tuesday- with many more students than originally anticipated. Graham said it was a great way to cap off the event for his program.
“Everybody is out, enjoying themselves and knowledge is being gained. The most important part is what is happening here today,” he said. “Having (everybody) here on at the same time, its a success for me.”
Although the derby is designed to teach students the value of culture and living off the land, there were other aspects driving the students to snag the best bite of the day. They gave away a kayak to the student with the largest fish, and pulling in a Northern Pike that weighed 1.35 kilograms, the honour and prize went to Grade 6 student Jordyn Jeannette of Paradise Hill.
Bringing people together also checked off another aspect of Indigenous culture; inclusion. Students were fed, resources were shared, and everyone came together to learn.
One student who enjoyed their time on the ice was Graham’s son, Dayton. Unfortunately, he didn’t win the kayak like he had wanted to, but the more important aspect for him was to learn more about his culture.
“Certain people don’t know about their cultures, that’s why I try my best to figure (it out),” he said. “During the winter, all of the animals hide. So (in the past, people) had to go ice fishing. They used one of their tools to break through the ice, and start fishing.”
Organizers are already planning a bigger and better event for next year, with all of the schools that participated excited to see what MSFNS has in store. Graham said he hopes to get a bigger canteen, educate the students more and get more people on the ice.
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