Weledeh students learn all about Dene culture in two-day on the land excursion to Yellowknife River

Archie Sangris shows students how to perfectly filet trout caught in Lutsel K'e. Left to right: Joshua Castada, Kupakwashe Makumbe, Zachary Mathison, Matthew Peck, K’ahlehmia Cazon, Sheyana Mantla, Jayda Stewart, Sofia Ardiles, Ashlee Kanatsiak, Kristin Nowak. (Photo courtesy of Sonja Hunt)

About two dozen Grade 4 students from Weledeh Catholic School in Yellowknife, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, have a new-found appreciation for the Dene culture after spending two days out on the land.

After receiving a $5,000 grant from the NWT On the Land Collaborative, teacher Sonja Hunt rode with her students by bus to the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) Wiiliideh site along the Yellowknife River, just off the Ingraham Trail.

They spent two days at the site this week learning about the legend and importance of the Sacred Tree located near the river which snapped off last summer during a wind storm.

Students gather with elders at the Sacred Tree site. Left to right. Fred Sangris, Verna & Mike Crapeau, Dylan Applejohn, Lauren Lalonde, Archie Sangris. (photo courtesy of Sonja Hunt)

Hunt says the focus of the trip was the Dene Law of Share the Teachings.

“What we wanted to do was highlight the Sacred Tree but also involve all our other curriculum. We’ve been doing a lot of outdoor learning, nature learning. We’ve been examining plants and trees and figuring their medicinal purposes,” Hunt said.

She adds that Dene elders Verna and Mike Crapeau as well as Fred Sangris helped the students take part in traditional lifestyle chores at camp, play indigenous games with the Aboriginal Sports Circle, and participate in cultural ceremonies like feeding the fire to start out the camp.

Verna Crapeau says she would like to see the program become an annual event.

“We’ve taught them a lot of things – how to clean trout and whitefish, how to pluck feathers from a duck. They’ve eaten caribou stew as well,” Verna said.  “You have to go out on the land to teach young people. It’s something that’s very important and I hope it goes on for a long time.”

Students were just beaming as CKLB dropped by for a visit.

Kyla Cleary with her ‘keepsake’ duck wing.
(Photo courtesy of Sonja Hunt)

They were clearly excited by their learning experience away from the classroom.

Evynn Crossman was one of the students enjoying her time out on the land.

“We’ve learned all about the Sacred Tree and how it fell.  Even though it’s now a stump lots of people say the spirit is still in it. Whenever people come by they still make an offering to the tree,” she said.

Evynn’s classmate, Desiree Charlo was all smiles when she talked about what parts she liked best.

“Plucking a duck, making bannock and seeing the Sacred Tree. This is a very special place.”

Students reluctantly headed back to town after a prayer circle to close the event Wednesday afternoon.

They hope to soon post a video online of their adventure.

The NWT On The Land Collaborative was created in 2015 to promote and financially support on the land initiatives across the territory.

About the Author

John McFadden
John has been in the broadcast journalism industry since the 1980s. He has been a reporter in Yellowknife since 2012 and joined CKLB in January of 2018. John covers the crime and court beat as well as reporting on other areas including politics, business, entertainment and sports. He won seven national community newspaper awards while he was a journalist with Northern News Services Limited (NNSL). John worked in Ontario before coming North including stints as a TV sportscaster in Peterborough and senior news writer for CBC and CTV in downtown Toronto.