Fifteen-plus years and still going 'Selawik Strong'
This was another successful year for Selawik's annual Science-Culture Camp, with students and teachers out on the land learning hands-on from local experts. The camp this year spanned several weeks in August and September, serving around 150 kids in grades 1-12.
August and September are busy months on the subsistence calendar, as well as the beginning of the school year. Camp organizers from the Native Village of Selawik and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Selawik National Wildlife Refuge partnered with Selawik Davis-Ramoth School to take advantage of the season and allow youth to learn about subsistence traditions.
For elementary school students, who went to camp in August, the central focus was on fish. Selawik resident expert fish cutters (young moms all the way up to Elders) demonstrated net checking and the scaling, cleaning and cutting of fish. Kids were then allowed to try it all out hands-on with patient coaching.
Youth were applauded when they finished cutting their own fish, washed it, and hung it on the i??isaq (fish rack). Additionally, students enjoyed investigating aquatic life with minnow nets, picking blueberries, and playing games on the tundra. A fresh lunch of soup, homemade doughnuts, and fruit topped off each class's day at camp.
Middle and high school students, who have honed their fishing skills over several years at the Science-Culture Camp, this year had the opportunity to explore their homeland further. Learning local place names, seeing new country, hunting and boating were part of each class's day-long outing in mid-September. Adult instructors also shared knowledge about tundra plants, gun safety, and outdoor survival skills.
One highlight was the successful harvest of a seal. Refuge Education Specialist Siikauraq Whiting was able to share the traditions she was raised with on how to honor the seal and release its spirit respectfully after harvest. The following day, the seal was brought to school, where a rapt audience watched as it was butchered and the meat was prepared. Students also got hands-on lessons in rendering the seal blubber into oil, which will be enjoyed at the Science-Culture Camp potluck in coming weeks.
A campout at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Kugarak River field cabin was the capstone event for the multi-week camp. Juniors and seniors ventured out with local guides and USFWS staff to make the two-hour-plus boat ride upriver, stopping along the way to scout for game, learn about local camps and enjoy a picnic lunch. Everyone enjoyed the experience and the chance to practice tasks like splitting firewood, operating a wood stove, dressing for the outdoors and cooperating as a team.
A big Quyana to all those who were a part of the camp this year - parents sending their kids warmly dressed each day, local instructors and cooks, school staff, Maniilaq Tribal Government Services and Northwest Arctic Borough for their support, the Elders who shared their wisdom, and most importantly the young people who are the reason for the camp and who shared their smiles and enthusiasm with us all.
Brittany Sweeney is an outreach specialist with the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge.