NIȽ TU,O ensures Coast Salish children and youth stay connected to their community, culture, and language by hosting ongoing Culture Camps.

Led by NIȽ TU,O staff and grounded in the Coast Salish worldview, these camps are held during the spring and summer months and on pro-D days throughout the year. All children and youth who are in NIȽ TU,O’s care are welcome to attend, as well as children from families working with a Family Support Worker through our Family Strengthening Programs. 

The days are structured to include a variety of activities that keep kids engaged, happy and excited. This usually includes a cultural component such as a day trip to connect the children to the land. In the summer months, the Culture Camps also go on overnight camping trips to experience the land their ancestors come from. 

(shown above, a youth helps sand a canoe at Luke Marston’s carving shop)

This summer has been filled with fun activities, including visiting Luke Marston’s carving shop to see the carving of NIL TU,O’s  traditional ocean going canoe, and exploring parks such as Centennial Park, Langford Park, East Sooke Park, Beacon Hill Park, and more. These park trips were paired with engaging activities such as movies, bowling, Malahat SkyWalk, and pottery painting. Cultural education activities included the making of medicine pouches, bannock, beading, learning about local plants and medicines and clamshell rattles. 

One day, the Culture Camp visited Royal Roads park to look at Devil’s Club, a large shrub found in the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest with many medicinal and cultural uses. There, the kids were given a tour of what Devil’s Club looks like in nature and how to identify it. Another day, they set up tables with Devil’s Club (previously harvested and prepared) that kids could use to make necklaces.

(Shown above: Lydia showing kids how to harvest ḴEXMIN during one of the Culture Camp days)

Centering these camps on cultural activities such as carving, harvesting medicine, and cultural work fosters connection with self and with others. The children were most deeply engaged in activities that were closely tied to culture. In addition to making medicine pouches, the youth filled the pouches with sage collected earlier in the year. One girl was very proud that she had been there to collect the sage too, making it a full-circle moment. 

Of the medicine pouch activity, Vanessa says, “it was really nice because the activity took place in the NIȽ TU,O cultural building where Indigenous music was featured in the background and you could probably hear a pin drop because the kids were just so concentrated on what they were doing.” 

She considers it a special moment, sharing “To see them all quiet and concentrating so hard really showed how interested and excited the children were.”

Bridging on the land learning with learning how to make cultural items creates connection to community and land for our children. Ongoing education about cultural protocols, land and place names and connection to plant and animal relatives reinforces cultural teachings from relatives and reminds children they belong to a culture that has lived in this area since time immemorial. As such, the Culture Camps are major contributors to the happiness and health of Coast Salish children in care and children living in community.

In addition to providing much-needed connection and belonging, Culture Camps foster self-confidence and leadership skills within the youth. This goes for the Junior camp counselors (who were too old for the camp, but still want to maintain the connection to the other children) as well, who have the chance to take on a leadership role while gaining work experience, and come out of their shells around other kids. Some started a little shy and unsure of themselves but grew to be comfortable playing and joking around with the campers. As the camps progressed, kids had a lot of fun and started to form important friendships.

Specifically being around other Coast Salish youth can be medicine for kids in care. Lydia says, “For them to be able to be at that camp, learning about their cultural identity and connecting with other kids that are experiencing the same things I think makes a huge difference.” 

Vanessa, (shown to the left) one of the camp leaders, mentions a memorable moment that exemplifies the enrichment that Culture Camps offer; one day, a child who tended to be very high energy said to her about halfway through the day, “Oh my goodness.” he said. Vanessa asked “What?” and he said, “I can’t wait to go home.” When she asked why, he said, “It’s because I’m so tired!” “We do so many things to tire them out and it was cute to see,” says Vanessa.

Both Lydia and Vanessa light up when they share about what the Culture Camps does for children. There are already plans for a weaving workshop in November, cultural camps on Pro-D days, and over Spring Break. 

This is just one of the many ways NIȽ TU,O is proud to support Coast Salish youth in care and others from the community as they explore their identity and learn more about nature, culture, and other important parts of life.