By Judy Bird

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The students learned about horses and went horseback riding. Photo courtesy Jackie McNab.

When Grade 7 students at the Pelican Narrows school were given the choice of where to go for their year-end trip – Edmonton to the mall, Calgary or George Gordon First Nation – their choice was easy: George Gordon First Nation.

“I was always talking about it, I call it God’s Country and they wanted to know where God’s Country was,” said Jackie McNab of George Gordon First Nation. She began teaching Grade 7 at Pelican Narrows school in September 2014.

“When I first started working out here, the kids all wanted to know where I was from so I Google mapped it and it showed them where I’m from. I always tell them about the youth down there, how we incorporate traditional values into everything, because it’s not incorporated up here. I teach using the medicine wheel as well with them. They wanted to know where I got my knowledge from, and where I went to residential school,” said McNab.

McNab invited her fellow Grade 7 teacher, Frances McCallum, and her students. Not all students made the trip, but in total, 15 students and five adults took part in the trip from June 9 – 11.

They endured a 10-hour bus ride, with a stop in Prince Albert to pick up supplies, and arrived late in the day.

McNab had put out the call for help with this trip to her home community through social media. “Were they ever a help,” she said. “There was a lot of people waiting for us with blankets and tents and air mattresses.”

The students and adults had a special treat: they all got to sleep in tipis.

“They saw the tipis and got all excited,” said McNab.

One of the first things the students did after arriving was help put up a tipi, with the guidance of Eddie Bitternose. “They were so attentive. They were so mesmerized by what he was talking about. The way he talks, he just grabbed the students’ attention right away, and the adults too, because they never slept in a tipi before,” said McNab.

After camp was set up, McNab’s sister brought food and the group had a wiener roast. That night, they stayed up until the wee hours, sitting around a camp fire, telling stories, including a good ghost story or two.

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The students got to see the bull buffalo. Photo courtesy Jackie McNab.

During their visit, they learned traditional teachings about the buffalo from Bitternose, and went to a pasture to get up close to a herd of buffalo. Then Max (Bradley) Longman taught them about the horse clan and the kids went horseback riding. On their last day, the students from the school on Gordon’s hosted a pancake breakfast. A hockey game was planned against the other Grade 7 students, but had to be cancelled.

“Our bus transmission light came on and we had to get back to P.A., so we didn’t have time to stay for the hockey game. We invited them to come up. Sylvia Nagy is going to bring up her Grader 7 and 8 class to a culture camp here in September,” said McNab, adding that they want to make this trip a yearly event. “Kind of like a classroom exchange.”

Though it was cut a bit short, the trip was a huge success. “On the way home, the kids talked about how much fun they had. They wanted to stay longer, and said they wanted to come again next year. They had so much fun,” said McNab.

The kids weren’t the only ones to have fun.

“I never saw a buffalo before, alive and so close,” said Frances McCallum, who is from Pelican Narrows. “I had a lot of learning because we had lost our culture. It was all so exciting. I want to go again but maybe stay longer next year. I want to go back.”

Even the bus driver took part.

“He stayed with the students the whole time, he didn’t want to leave,” said McNab. “On the last day when we were packing up, he told me ‘In all my life, I’ve never learned as much as I have in these two days about my culture and traditions.’”

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