By Aidan Wickenhauser, PAMF Summer Student
Recently, I had the pleasure of taking part in a week-long canoe trip with some community members from Grandmother’s Bay, an Indigenous community about one-hour North of La Ronge.
Although the weather didn’t always cooperate, I had a spectacular time. There was so much I loved about the trip: the physical grind of paddling and portaging, the tranquility of abandoning my phone and just enjoying being out in nature, the amazing food – I could go on. However, more than anything else, I loved the wealth of knowledge I gained from the trip, both through the experience itself, and from my companions.
First and foremost, I learned the importance of the connection between the people of Grandmother’s Bay and their traditional land. The love of the land was evident throughout the trip. Everyone had SO much knowledge, and no one seemed to share the same thing twice. On any given day, I would learn about good places to fish, different canoeing techniques, medicine, or cultural history that Gerald, Nora, and Elder Betsy (the trip’s guides) would casually drop during conversation. The knowledge from the trip’s guides may have been extensive, but I was equally impressed by the knowledge the youth shared. Even though they were many years younger than our guides, they also had endless amounts of information to share, and I found myself constantly learning from them, despite the fact that I spend much of my free time outdoors.
What struck me about how this information was shared, however, was that there were very few times someone would pull me or another guest to the side with the intention of sharing a tidbit of information. Most of what I learned was gathered implicitly; I didn’t realize how much I had learned until I took the time to sit down and write this little blog. Unbeknownst to myself, as the days passed, I was picking up on a lot of the things everyone did.
During this trip, I also gained an appreciation of how difficult life can get in the forests of Saskatchewan, even during the summers. We were able to experience every type of weather while we were out canoeing from torrential downpour to extreme heat. As the weather fluctuated, so too did all the other various challenges that accompany staying outside for an extended period of time: bugs, wind, gathering dry wood during the rain, finding footing (wet portages and muskegs are the worst), fatigue, etc.
During all of this, I could only imagine how much harder it would have been doing the same thing without ever having a nice, comfortable bed to go home to and without as much food. In other words, I couldn’t imagine how difficult living a life like that would be. Yet, Indigenous peoples lived these lives for thousands of years, and many continue to do so today.
The fact that Indigenous peoples have been living in Saskatchewan for thousands of years is another thing that really hit home to me this trip. Although I have known this to be the case for some time, it wasn’t until seeing pictographs that I really understood what it meant. Floating beside vivid depictions detailing caribou, hunters, and a legendary serpent rumoured to lurk within a bottomless lake was a surreal experience, and it really grounded me to just how long Saskatchewan has been a home to so many.
In summary, I had an amazing time. It was an exhausting but rewarding trip. I learned a lot about the people and culture of Grandmother’s bay and the land they live in, making some great memories in the process. If you ever have the opportunity to camp and canoe in Northern Saskatchewan, I highly recommend it.