Episode 3 - Around the Campfire
This episode takes place at Roddy’s Camp and explores the different things that can be shared over a campfire. Things like support and knowledge, and also things like tea and bannock.
Welcome to walking Our Path Together, a series of audio stories exploring Yukon College's journey toward reconciliation. Over the course of the series, we'll hear from people who are connected with the college, and we'll also hear voices of people throughout the Yukon: elders, educators, community leaders, and youth.
This is episode three: Around the Campfire
Head behind the main buildings on Yukon College’s Ayamdigut Campus in Whitehorse, walk a little ways on a path leading into the woods, and you’ll find Roddy’s Camp. Nestled into the trees, there’s a fire pit with benches to sit on, and a shelter if it rains or gets too cold.
Roddy’s Camp is a comfortable spot where the College community — students, staff and elders — can gather weekly to spend time together, tell stories, and learn from each other.
Everyone is welcome.
In this episode, we will spend some time out at Roddy’s Camp and hear the voices of people sitting around the campfire.
Just a note before we start, all of this audio was recorded at the campfire, so you’ll hear bits and pieces from the environment in the recording — the crackling of the fire, the hum of the wind, and even the songs of nearby birds.
Debra-Leigh Reti: I am Debra-Leigh Reti. I'm the First Nation Cultural Coordinator here at Ayamdigut Campus and right now, I'm just getting the fire going for our weekly campfires out at Roddy’s Camp. Doing a campfire is basically bringing students, staff, everyone just together around the fire with some Elders, and we have some good old fashioned bush tea, and bannock might be arriving today,
[Background chatter and campfire noises]
Maria Greenland: Whenever you're going to gather together, somebody's always bringing food, you're always eating. Always. Everybody's got their secret recipe for their bannock and so do I.
[language] I come from a Aklavik Northwest Territories. I'm going to the College here, I've been attending it for a couple of years, and I enjoy it. I've gone to a few colleges, but yet this is the most supportive that I've found.
I'm doing office admin, and I was thinking of going to business. There are times where you're sitting around a fire like this where you actually think about those things, like where do I want to go and where do I want to head.
At first, it was very difficult, it really was. My first year, my son wanted to go home all the time. My daughter, she missed home. They had gone home and then they returned. You miss the family, you miss that home. Then, as I was here, I started calling home and having the support of my family saying "You're there for a reason, enjoy your education," and there were still times when I get pretty lonesome, and I would call my grandpa just to hear his voice and know that I have that support. I think it's quite important. You have to have that structure and that support, otherwise you get pretty lost.
The homework sometimes can be heavy, but coming here is relaxing, and it's refreshing. It's something that I definitely enjoy, it reminds me of when I was a kid. The whole smell of the campfire, the sounds, the crackling, it's all pretty good. Everyone has their own way of staying and being connected to the creator, being connected to God, and just being connected to the land.
Debra-Leigh Reti: So, we started utilizing the Roddy’s Camp as students started asking for campfires. We just wanted to make more use of that outdoor classroom that’s named after Roddy Blackjack. Roddy Blackjack played a big part back in the days with land claims. He was really big on education, and believing in the outdoors being your area to be educated, not just in the classroom.
Just having a fire, and having some tea over the fire, and sometimes we have bannock, and just sharing stories and elders sitting there, talking about their youth and what they learned and how they grew up. It's warm, it's comforting, and students feel like, especially the Northern students that are here away from home, it's a touch of home for them. Because that's what we do at home, we sit around the fire, whether it's indoor or out at camp, and we drink tea and share stories. That's oral history, so we pass on these things through stories.
Natsuko Yamauchi: Hi, my name is Natsuko Yamauchi. I'm from Japan, I'm studying in this College [in] the Heritage and Culture course. This is the first year for me. I am excited.
It's kind of a long story, but anyway. I am a writer and I am interested in record history, especially oral history, in writing. Actually I live in a small community in Japan, so I would like to record my community's history, so I come here to study how to record or pass on to the next generation. It's very exciting, everything is exciting. I didn't expect to study here. Most of my classmates are from First Nations. It's very interesting. I am expecting to meet people and hear something from elders to get inspired.
Narrator: In mid-June, a campfire session was used to welcome a new employee to the College. Dr. Wally Rude came from Alberta to join Yukon College as the Registrar and Dean of Enrollment Services. He spent a morning with elders Shirley Adamson, Roger Ellis, and Phillip Gatensby around the campfire, sharing stories and learning about Yukon’s Indigenous history.
Shirley Adamson: We have a word called Dūlé and you’re going to hear it throughout the Yukon with the Athapaskan-speaking people, and they refer to it as law. We believe everything has energy, everything, all of the living, breathing, flying, swimming – every breathing thing has energy and the inanimate objects have energy, and we know this when we use the plants and the animals for food and for medicine because what we’re doing is we’re taking that energy into ourselves, so we pray and give thanks for that – for that transfer of energy.
Dūlé goes beyond that – it describes that relationship to those and also to the metaphysical. It instructs us on how we must conduct ourselves to live in harmony with all of those other energies—the physical and the metaphysical.
Phillip Gatensby: [Tlingit language]. My name is Phillip Alexander Gatensby. My real name is [Tlingit language]. That’s the name that was given to me before I was born.
If you think about it, when you sit like this, it’s a simple little thing, a campfire conversation, right? But it’s like making a stew. All of us put something into that and pretty soon it becomes a pretty rich food. Then we all eat from it; we share; we grab together strength from it. It makes us healthy.
We have an ancestral line—our ancestors are tied up in our DNA. We have that, you have yours, I have mine. And it's interesting because they're not gone, because they're alive inside of us.
So, when we sit like this our ancestors connect with each other, and it's an amazingly powerful thing, when our ancestors can come together. One of the things in our lives as we're taught, 'Put your mind to it, you can do this, and you can do that', but in our culture, traditionally, we included our ancestors in everything, like Shirley said, how everything we did honoured that, and we are very cognizant of their presence in everything, every breath, every heartbeat. So, I think that part of our movement here now requires for us to invite our ancestors to be with us.
Well, a fundamental knowing in our culture is that this body that you see here, this is the earth, I am the earth. At some point this body will go back to the earth. I'm not from the earth, I am the earth, and I will return to the earth. My watch will last a little longer because of the metal, but it too, over time, will turn back to the earth again. So, we have that in common, you and I have that in common. We're both the same earth, we're not different earths, and so we get that. That's one of our connections.
We have inside of us, they call it the 'spark of life', or you could call it your 'spirit'. But my grandmother referred to it as a fire. We have a fire burning inside of us. That fire keeps our bodies warm, even at 40 below our bodies are still 98.6 or 37 degrees. So, if you ask people in a scientific sort of way, what makes our bodies warm, all the explanations would suggest fire. Like 'we burn our calories'. There are many different explanations, but all refer to fire. So, my grandmother said we have a fire burning, and it's our spirit. So, you and I, we have the same life force, we don't have a different life force, we have exactly the same, so we're tied to each other that way.
They say water, the water, we are- I don't know what it is. It's like 75 percent or something water, and we know that the water that's inside of our bodies is not new water. We always say we drink fresh water, but I don't believe there's any such thing as fresh water. It's as old as the earth, which is something like 4.5-billion-year-old water. So, inside of our bodies are 4.5-billion- year-old water, and the water has recycled itself many, many, many times in 4.5 billion years. Has done this loopy-loo where it came and gave life to something, was absorbed into the earth, and then was drawn back into the sky and went and fell again and gave life to something else.
So, if you think about it, in 4.5 billion years and the water that's in our bodies right now, how many flowers have bloomed from this water? How many fish have swum through this water? How many seedlings have sprouted, or leaves have unfurled? Or how many animals drank this water for life? The water that's giving me life right now. And you and I, we have the same water. If you took a bucket, and you could wring us out like dishcloths, and get all the 75% percent, every drop. Once our waters hit the bucket, you wouldn't be able to tell us apart. We would be exactly identical. So, that means we are 75% identical to one another, identical substance.
Then we breathe the air and since we've been talking to each other we've breathed each other’s air, and air is like the water, it's not new, it's recycled. Our waste is the plants’ food, and plants’ waste is our food. So that same exact cycle has been happening from the beginning of time. So, we're the same earth, we're same water, we're the same fire, and we're the same air. That's, to me, the relationship. If I could see that, then we would be bound incredibly to one another without question.
Annie Ned was one of the last holy people here. Her great-granddaughter was running across the floor and Annie Ned looked at her and she said, "Ah, my ongoing breath". When I heard that I thought that was the coolest thing I ever heard, what a wonderful way of putting it. I realized that when she said that, that was the absolute truth, that that little girl had Annie Ned’s blood inside of her body. Her life, her breath was inside of her. Annie Ned passed and later you see the great-granddaughter, who’s become a woman now, and she has children, and I look at the children and I think, 'Oh my gosh, that's Annie Ned’s life inside them, her breath is there.' It made me think about my own ancestors, and how I act like they're gone. But, obviously they're inside my body, they're inside my cells in my DNA. If there was a way, if we really wanted to Indigenize it, there was a way to access some immortal cellular memory or to wake that up, man that would be so incredible. It would help us to remember.
I think that's what we have to do is remember who we are. And if we remember who we are then we'll be able to see who we're not. I think we spend a lot of time trying to be what we're not, or who we're not.
Dr. Wally Rude: I want to start by saying how moving this morning has been. I feel like you have each spoken so well, so authentically. And I have actually, not to boast, but I feel like I have listened, and I have been learning more things, things that I have been trying to learn anyway, they've been reinforced. I was struck by this notion of celebrating the inherent worth of every human being, regardless of their skin color or their history. Struck by this idea, Phil, that the First Nations community has something to give. I believe I have been growing into that knowledge.
I've been on a journey of my own reconciliation around what kind of glasses have I been wearing, in terms of how I've been seeing other people. And that's why this moment here has been so exciting for me.
To think about my role at the College and how can I, in small way, create missions in which we cultivate the inherent value of every human being, every student that we get to serve at the College. So, it's about relationships and taking off those blinders, those ideas we have about other people, the conceived ideas that are often negative and just being humble enough to hear people's stories and accept them for the journey that they're on.
So, those are some thoughts that I have. This makes me want to do this more, this kind of speaking while listening. I think it breaks down barriers. And in some ways, what responsibility do I take on as being connected to someone who came from- my ancestors are from Europe, I'm part of the colonizers. That's my heritage. I have to come to grips with that. I don't want that to force me to be stuck in a place where I can't also move forward in terms of cultivating relationships with Indigenous people and working together. I don't want to be invisible either, so I'm really struck by this whole idea of relationship and cultivating the practices, the laws as you talked about Phil, that move us towards healthy relationships with ourselves, with others, with a higher power and with our communities. That's a beautiful vision. Becoming the best version of ourselves, celebrating our humanity and embracing who we are and all the goodness that we have to offer the world.
We’re humbled and grateful to the knowledgeable Yukoners who took their time to be a part of this project, and to help tell this story.
This audio story was produced by LC Creative (Leighann Chalykoff) for Yukon College.
Original music is by Jona Barr.
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