CAMP Ouareau IS FOR GIRLS AGED 6-16 WHO ARE LOOKING TO BE A PART OF A POSITIVE GIRL COMMUNITY, MAKE NEW FRIENDS, AND LIVE IN A BILINGUAL ENVIRONMENT. -official website
Facts on camp Ouareau
- Founded in 1922 by two anglophone school teachers, at a time when the vote for women in Québec was still more than 20 years away: their original intention was to provide young women an experience of nature before marriage.
- In the 1970s, an English-French linguistic program was introduced: staff now speak two days in English, two days in French and bilingually on Sunday. Camper population is 50% anglophone and 50% francophone [more].
- Camp Ouareau is unplugged, meaning that campers do not have access to electronics (phone, computer, electricity). Staff have restricted access during their off hours, and music and videos are sometimes used during certain specific programs.
- Population at camp is predominantly 'white'. Staff mostly range from 17 to 25 year olds, and are usually in cegep or university. Around half of campers are from outside of Québec, and at least ⅛ from outside of Canada. [full website]
Here is a 20 minutes overview of what 2 weeks at Camp Ouareau look like: (password: 95years)
importance of camp
Summer camps have the ability to be key players in youth development, and have been proven to be a great site of informal learning.
The Canadian Summer Camp Research Project has shown that camp provides development in:
- "Social integration and citizenship: Access to a wider social network with closer bonds to more friends and/or staff and with other camp alumni through shared experiences
- Attitudes towards physical activity: Participates in more physical activities within home, school, and community contexts
- Self-confidence and personal development: More flexible, resourceful, and self-aware, thereby better able to deal with life's challenges
- Environmental awareness: Leads a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle, reduces ecological footprint, and encourages environmental responsibility
- Emotional intelligence: More balanced and self-aware, thereby capable of empath and relating to others on an emotional level"
Summer camps in general have a history of coopting Indigeneity as associated with the concept of 'nature' in opposition to that of 'urbanity', the former being seen as a positive force to counter the negative influence of the latter on youth development. Though sometimes subtle (making dream-catchers in arts, using beads to count team victories), other practices are more obvious and actively propagate an outdated and oppressive vision of Indigenous cultures. Practices such as splitting camp into opposing 'tribes', ceremonies involving 'headdresses' and 'peace pipes' or 'Indian circles' are particularly problematic.
1st act of decolonization - Challenges & considerations
Although alumnae still sometimes question the change, camper and staff reactions were fairly positive, and very few of them question the team names three years in. However, certain challenges have emerged, which we are hoping to address.
- Spelling: Staff often misspell 'Atikamekw', 'Sakhikan' and 'Rotin' (the name of our staff team, meaning wind). This may seem of little importance to staff, but due to the power structure between white settlers and Indigenous nations, it becomes a type of thoroughly unnecessary micro-agression.
- History: Since the initial change, staff and campers have become more and more oblivious to the origins of the names of the teams, somewhat defeating its initial purpose.
- Pervasiveness: Although 'Iroquois' and 'Algonquins' have mostly disappeared from camp vocabulary, terms such as 'tribal paint' or 'tribal games' are still frequently used.
- Participation: The name change was done mostly without consultation with the Atikamekws, except for a brief phone conversation explaining our motives, and an email exchange to confirm the spelling and pronunciation of 'Sakhikan' and 'Matanak' with a representative from the Centre d'amitié autochtone de Lanaudière.
Staff training lasts a minimum of 10 days. Topics covered during this training range from age-group behaviours, conflict intervention, fat-talk and community living. A workshop about colonization, its history and impact, and contemporary Indigenous presence would be a key part of the decolonization process.
Optimally, a period of discussion would follow a workshop led by an Indigenous leader specialized in decolonization. However, if unable to hire or invite a speaker, the use of the Wapikoni Mobile Studio videos might prove fruitful in instigating a reflection process, particularly due to their youth-centered approach which echoes Ouareau's mission.
Inviting Indigenous speakers to lead workshops with our staff and possibly our campers would serve three purposes:
- Educate staff and campers on Indigenous issues
- Actualize the contemporary existence of Indigenous people
- Begin a relationship with Indigenous organizations
I've already contacted a few organizations, and though some of them responded, none are currently available to lead workshops. I am however still at the beginning of my research. Other organizations I think might be interesting are:
- Centre d'amitié autochtone de Lanaudière: more specifically their youth group who have already worked on an awareness workshops against racism.
- Tourisme Manawan: Touristic organization offering guided stays at the Manawan Reserve.
- Manawan Reserve and Council website
Note: A camp director I contacted suggested I google 'indigenous speaker for youth canada', which brought forth the issue of tokenization and erasure of systemic discrimination: a lot of the speakers that come up are incredibly talented and somewhat unusually accomplished, or even what one could call 'motivational speakers'.
Evaluating implicit norms at work (such as eating fish sticks on Fridays, a relic of our Christian past) during different activities at Ouareau, will allow us to question and address the environment that fosters and propagates such behaviours. Here are some examples to consider at first:
'Tribal': Ouareau games are a particularly sensitive sight to continued colonial practices. The term 'tribal chief', 'tribal game' and 'war paint' are still sometimes used, even by brand new staff members, pointing to some sort of legacy which we were trying to avoid. The use of the paint itself are an important facet to the excitement surrounding the game, but might also need to be deconstructed. Ouareau games being such a huge and seemingly organic part of camp, but also holding a specific history of racism, it is imperative for us to continue to question its foundation and execution.
'Savage': The innocent use of the word 'savage' in recent years to refer to 'impolite' behaviour points to at worst the perpetuation of a negative discourse surrounding Native culture, and at best, the invisibility of a power structure that makes such use problematic.
Flag Raising: Every morning, campers and staff gather around the flag pole in order to sing the anthem and raise the Canadian flag. This symbol of patriotism might seem innocuous (though fairly potent in the Québec setting), but one might wonder if it doesn't serve to legitimize the idea of Canada as settler's land, whose belonging is free from contestation. A disclaimer akin to "We give thanks to the Atikamekw Nation upon whose land we've gathered here today" might be interesting here, but more so if the idea is introduced by campers themselves.
WEBSITE: The Atikamekws are currently mentioned on our website within the context of our two teams:
"Campers stay on the same team for the entirety of their session at Ouareau, either Matanak ("Mountain") or Sakhikan ("Lake"). These names were chosen from the Atikamekw language (for the Native Canadian tribe that once inhabited the land that Ouareau is on) to honour the beautiful natural environment that surrounds us. "
Changing "Native Canadian (...) once inhabited" to the 'Native Nation whose land Ouareau stands on' would be a subtle yet efficient way to suggest the acknowledgement of unceded land.
AGE GROUPS: Two of our current age groups (Dekopi and Chipka) are named after what we were told were 'Indigenous words' for 'hug a tree' and 'top of the mountain'. In fact, it seems Dekopi is a nonsense word (or a misspelling of a type of coffee bean), and Chipka is a deformation of 'Chipko', an Indian (as in from India!) movement against deforestation. Though we recently dispelled the notion amongst staff and campers that Dekopi and Chipka were 'Indigenous' words, it would be interesting to go through a process similar as to how we renamed our teams.
CABINS & TENTS: Just as with our age groups, some of our cabins and tents have a dubious naming history. Changing or contextualizing their use would be an important step in decolonization.
- Haida: Named after the Indigenous Nation on whose land part of British Columbia stands on.
- Owaissa: Possibly a reference to a word meaning 'blue bird' in The Legend of Hiawatha.
- Wigwam: A type of abode used by certain Native Nations.
Campers have previously shown great interest in gathering to discuss 'serious' topics such as feminism, leadership, slut-shaming and body image. Campers aged 11-13 have specifically requested activities giving them the opportunity to talk and explore their opinions on specific topics.
Leading a discussion with campers on how to approach the idea that Camp Ouareau (and a lot of North-America) stands on unceded land — which could be introduced with the projection of a 'treaty map' (such as the one available at nativeland.ca) — would allow campers to begin a process of reflection. Notably, since a lot of material on 'Indigenous History' is taught in Secondary 3 and 4, campers would then arrive at school with a different perspective on the material that they might be able to introduce to their classmates. More specifically, these workshops could occur during the daily free activity time, where campers are free to decide where to go.