It’s 10 a.m. on a typical Wednesday morning at Mikisew School in Cross Lake, MB. The students are in their classrooms, reading books or working on assignments. All except for the ones in Kerry Muswagon’s Cultural Awareness class.
Instead, these students are outside, across the road from the school, enjoying a bright fall day. Half the class is lined up behind a rope, practicing their archery skills, while the other half are busy tending the fire and cooking up some campfire tea. A few more are sitting off to the side, getting a lesson from Kerry on how to pluck a goose.
The students gravitate to Kerry, and you can tell they feel relaxed and trusting in his presence. It’s clear that teaching these skills is a passion and a gift that Kerry has.
His own skills and knowledge were passed on to him from his father, during their frequent trips into the bush together that were a feature of his childhood and adolescence, and continue to this day.
At our Youth Gathering in October, Kerry told the group how when he was younger, he used to wish he didn’t have to go with his father, that he could just stay home and hang out with his friends.
“I said ‘Why do I have to learn this, why do I have to do this,’ that kind of thing,” Kerry recalls. “And I see that with the kids today at the school that I work in; ‘What is this, I don’t want to do this’.”
But today he is thankful for those experiences. “I really enjoy what I do now. I’m contributing, I’m sharing what I know, my knowledge.”
That afternoon, he taught us about moose hunting and moose behaviour, along with how to make fry bread and an incredible moose stew out of the simplest ingredients.
We all worked together to slice up the potatoes, onions and moose meat. The meat itself was a symbol of knowledge passing between generations; harvested earlier that fall by Michelle, Kerry’s 15-year-old daughter, while they were out hunting together. It was her first moose.
“Last year’s got away on her,” Kerry shared with a chuckle.
For Kerry though, having these skills is about more than putting good, nutritious food on the table for his family. “One of the things that I like about me going out in the bush is it’s peaceful. And sometimes we need to get out of the real world and get out there – it’s like my vacation when I can go out there.”
Sometimes it takes some learning about ourselves before we really know what is good for us. Luckily for the students at Mikisew, and thanks to Kerry and the school administration that sees the value in the learning, this path remains open to them even though they may not choose it today.
All photos courtesy of Food Matters Manitoba
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