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Fort Folly Youth Learn About Mi'kmaq Culture [archive]

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Fort Folly Youth Learn About Mi'kmaq Culture

A group of youth in the Fort Folly First Nations community have spent a month this summer learning more about their culture.

Gilbert Sewell, an elder from Pabineau First Nation in the Bathurst area, has worked with 11 youth during the summer, teaching them everything from traditional song and dance to how to survive in the woods and what plants are safe to eat.

"They're learning their traditions and culture and about plants and the environment," Sewell explained.

"I teach them traditional Mi'kmaq language, what plants in the woods are medicinal, how to survive in the woods, and about assessing the area through things like fossils and bird-watching."

Sewell added that there's more to the Fort Folly Youth Program than learning about their culture, although that's a key element.

"This will really help them if they want to go into a career such as interpretation or tourism," he said.

The high school and college-age students now know that if they get lost in the woods, there are certain leaves, berries and plants that are safe to eat and which have medicinal properties. They catalogued photos of edible plants on a computer at their office in Fort Folly. They learned to make a birch bark container to hold berries or collect drinking water.

Laura Buck, one of the participants in the youth program, said everything she learned was new and interesting.

"I learned some of the language, songs, and carvings," she explained.

"We went on hikes and fossil hunting. It was a really good experience. Everything was new."

Savannah Morin also enjoyed working with the program.

"It was fun learning what we can eat in the woods," she said. "I liked working with Gilbert. And it's important to learn about the Mi'kmaq culture."

Ricky Knockwood has participated in the program in past years so he already had some background in Mi'kmaq culture. However, he too learned a lot and said the youth program is a rewarding experience.

"The stuff we learned about the woods is really good to know, like which plants can be used if you have a cold or you cut yourself or have a lot of bug bites," he said.

"I already knew the singing and drumming but I learned a lot of other things."

Sewell said that working with youth and teaching them about their heritage is something he enjoys.

"They're so eager to learn," he said.

"A lot of us tend to overlook young people as good students but they're really eager to find out about Mi'kmaq people. Students enjoy the hands-on aspect of it where they go out into fields to learn, where they can see, smell, and feel the outdoors."

A well-known Mi'kmaq storyteller and historian, Sewell grew up hunting, trapping, and gathering medicines from natural vegetation.

At home in Pabineau, he offers guided tours including hiking, fossil hunting, and snowshoeing, teaching awareness of the environment. Sewell has also provided the content for a CD-ROM and audio CD entitled Exploring An Ancient North American Civilization (Micmac) Vol. 1, featuring interactive multimedia stories and songs.

--by Amy Wheaton

Additional Reading

 American Indian Tribes
 Mi'kmaq Education
 Mi'kmaq Glooscap Stories
 Native Americans in Maine

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