by Isobel Harry
KAGAWONG– On a beautiful July morning in Kagawong’s Mudge Bay, an ebullient group of about 20 teenagers and young adults aged 14 and up descended on the beach while half a dozen canoes were deposited on the shore.
It was the day for the Paddle Lab, a program organized by 4elements Living Arts (also known as 4e) based in Kagawong, a multidisciplinary, cross-cultural, non-profit arts organization established on the Island to “investigate and integrate relationships between landscape, creativity, and community, through research, arts creation, and community cultural and economic development.”
“What land-based experiences means,” says programs assistant Patricia Mader, “is getting people out on the land and the water to observe what’s around them in nature, and to create art inspired by nature using natural materials. 4e encourages participants to manifest themselves in creative ways.”
4elements executive director Sophie Edwards described the Paddle Lab as “an experiment on the theme of reconciliation” inspired by the recent release of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which, among many other recommendations, calls for better integration of indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into educational programs.
Heather Thoma, a facilitator with 4e who has an environmental background, says that the non-profit organization “uses creative thinking and interdisciplinary perspectives” to design its programs. “Paddle Lab is an exploration, a social laboratory that builds teams and skills while connecting with the landscape.”
“This program’s theme is based on working cross-culturally, and it was suggested by Lindzii Taibossigai who works with youth on environmental issues in M’Chigeeng First Nation,” adds Ms. Thoma. “We have also partnered with Social Enterprise Evolution (SEE) in Sault Ste Marie, and Jordan Tabobondung of SEE is here to join our expedition out on the water and to offer some important teachings. Stephanie Recollet of Wahnapitae First Nation is an expert canoeist and guide who works with youth and she will be guiding this trip. Today is not about distance, but about conversations.”
The mixed group of youths from Manitoulin towns and First Nations gathered in a circle around Elder Josh Eshkawkogan of Kenjgewin Teg Educational Institute (KTEI), who passed a shell to each person with a smouldering smudge of sacred herbs. “Today you will learn how to apply the principle of working together on the water,” said the elder, “and how to use your gifts with respect for what’s around you. Water is grounding. Be aware and be safe.”
Jordan Tabobondung gave a teaching on the two-row wampum by drawing lines in the sand to illustrate two parallel lines that “embody the nation-to-nation relationship, separate but equal.”
Stephanie Recollet then led the group in a session on canoe safety and paddling strokes while everyone strapped on their life-vests before loading packed lunches, snacks and water into the canoes and climbing in.
Patricia Mader, who came from southern Ontario with B.A.s in both Art History and Fine Arts to work on a one-year contract with 4e, describes the day’s paddle as “a great exercise in trust-building. We paddled out and along the east side of Mudge Bay carrying out activities that had been designed by Stephanie to get conversations going. We learned to switch places in the canoes without tipping over, and we rafted up the canoes, each exercise serving as an icebreaker and in developing trust in each team member while we paddled.”
The group stopped for lunch on a far shore and made bannock together, playing creative games and talking together about reconciliation. “When we got back about 6, we made dinner together on Coleman stoves with the day wrapping up about 9. It was a tough paddle coming back, with the wind against us, but that just served to strengthen our really great team.”
For more information on 4 Elements’ ongoing programs and workshops, visit http://4elementslivingarts.org