Journey brings youth traditional knowledge

Tyler Clarke
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Tommy Bird’s parents were two of the lucky ones who somehow managed to bypass the residential school system, passing their traditional knowledge on to him.


Recognizing that traditional knowledge hasn’t been passed on to the majority of Saskatchewan’s native youth, Bird has been doing his part to share what he knows.

Last week, Bird helped guide a group of 11 youth on a dogsled expedition across Reindeer Lake.

“It’s a really unique travel with the kids,” he said, noting that the youth came primarily from Southend, The Pas and the Prince Albert areas.

“They’re reconnecting with the land,” he explained. “This is how our people travelled for many years, and the route we took was a hunting route.

“That’s what our ancestors did for many years -- they travelled by dogsled team, eh? It’s also good for the youth. They learn to get together, they learn to share and it really brings out the person.”

Although he also owns and operates a retail store in Southend, Bird is an experienced trapper, fisherman and hunter -- knowledge he passed on to the 11 youth he helped guide last week.

“I was well taught by my dad how to read the land and how to survive, because you can read the land -- which way’s north, which way’s south, which way the wind is blowing and all of that,” he said.

“I trapped for many years, fish and hunt and went with my dad with a dog team before the (snowmobile) came along, so we’re sort of the last.”

Last week, youth double-sleighed behind adults -- more experienced mushers who handled the canines.

Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations vice chief Simon Bird and Prince Albert Grand Council vice chief Brian Hardlotte saw the group off.

This is how our people travelled for many years, and the route we took was a hunting route. Tommy Bird

Sledding along a traditional trapping trail, the group subsisted as their ancestors did over three days.

“The kids, they learned to look after their shoes, make sure they dry up their boots, make sure you’ve got warm gloves, make sure you’ve got your parka -- all the other stuff you need to know.”

One day saw the group net 20 lake trout and some whitefish that they cooked over a fire.

“We had more food than anything else,” Bird said.

Along their journey the group found plenty of support -- particularly in Kinosao where a cheering welcome introduced them to the community.

By the time their three-day trip was over with the group of youth were left with many lessons learned, chaperone Kevin Lewis wrote in a summary of the trip.

“We learned to pedal behind the dogsled to keep warm,” he wrote. “This allowed the blood to start flowing. It was also not good to sweat too much in the cold.”

A mixture of lard and bear grease was used to prevent cold from chapping their faces.

“mâmawi-okâwimâw (Mother Earth) is a wonderful teacher and we all became learners out there,” Lewis concluded. “mitho-ohpikinawâwasowin (good childrearing) happened because she gave us our lessons. The classroom was the lake, the bush and around the fire.”

This was the second annual dogsled expedition -- something Bird said will continue as long as the public is interested. 

Organizations: Prince Albert, Saskatchewan Indian Nations, Simon Bird and Prince Albert Grand Council

Geographic location: Southend, Saskatchewan, Reindeer Lake Kinosao

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