While Cree children in the communities have the opportunity on a daily basis to learn from their own environment and their Elders who are there to pass on knowledge, they don’t often get to share their culture with youth from other provinces, states or countries.
This is why the International School for Earth Studies (ISES) has been running a special program for Cree youth and young people from the United States to share their individual cultures while learning about the gifts of Mother Earth and how to protect her.
While ISES holds programs year round for students often experiencing a gap year between high school and university, its summer programming is unique in that it is for a younger clientele and is offered in a shorter time frame that is known as the Insight Quest Program (IQP).
The program starts out with bringing Cree students from the north and American students from the south together at ISES’s base camp in Ladysmith, Quebec for the first two weeks of study.
“It’s all about cultural integration as we take six Cree youth and six students primarily from the US. I have kids coming in from Boston, Chicago, California, Colorado and I might even have one from Ontario. Nine out of 10 times I have them coming in from the States,” said Geoffrey D. Cushing, cofounder and director of ISES.
As ISES is nature connection based, the facility cares for over 70 animals that are part of the school’s study program. Cushing said they keep 25 sled dogs, seven horses and a private collection of over a dozen birds of prey as well as injured animals from the wild that the students and staff care for on site.
Grooming pups, bottle feeding abandoned raccoons and handling wildlife that is being rehabilitated is all part of the school’s animal husbandry program for the students as they are guided to do so under the careful supervision of the professionals who are there to teach them.
Learning about the environment is a big part of the program and students are given the opportunity to do so through various forms of media and through sharing their own personal stories.
Cushing recalled one time when a student from Massachusetts was bragging about how “green” his state had become when it came to using renewable energy and adopting environmentally sustainable lifestyles. It was only when a Cree girl asked him where he thought his energy came from and what kind of an impact that had on her community that he began to think beyond the boundaries of his state and acknowledge the impact of the energy production. North America’s energy demands play a major role in terms of the environmental teachings of the program.
Cushing explained that this is why the Cree participants are so essential to the program because of the perspectives they can bring to the table.
The Crees are not without their advantages as well, interacting with youth from different places who they would never get the chance to meet otherwise and learning leadership skills while they are at it.
Flat-water canoeing, canoe tripping, game trail hiking and wilderness survival skills are also a large part of the program as is bush learning about the local flora. In learning about their immediate environment, students are taught what indigenous plants are edible, how to grow organic vegetables and how to nurture a medicine-wheel garden.
During the final part of the program, the students are driven for 12 hours directly north to embark on a canoeing trip through EM1 and the Rupert Diversion with their final destination being the annual Old Nemaska Days festival.
“The last year we were there they actually gave us the old church that was part of the original community and we had people waiting for us on the beach at 10 at night when we paddled in – it was just wonderful,” said Cushing.
Former Cree students have been coming back to participate in the program year after year because they enjoy it so much said Cushing. Nemaska’s Steve Visitor, a graduate of one of the Niskamoon engineering programs, liked being at the school that he returns during the course with the Crees to work as an instructor and then serve as a liaison when they are back in their communities.
Another benefit for the Cree students is the price. While the students from the US and other places have to pay about $2500 for the IQP program, Cree Human Resources and Development covers the cost for Cree students so their families only have to pay $50 per participant.
“We really do want to create a new world. It’s not just about environment, it’s about kids and so these kids get to feel a sense of ownership. We are looking for those kinds of kids, who given an opportunity, will make a difference and that is what we are working with,” said Cushing.
For more info on ISES and its unique programs, visit: