A life-changing Indigenous youth camp

A small yellow bus braves the forest roads that lead to the Atikamekw social services prevention and accountability camp, in the middle of the Nitaskinan forest. Young people between the ages of 12 and 19 come from the communities of Manawan and Wemotaci as well as from the city of La Tuque. The objective, to reconnect the thirty young people who have difficult paths, to their native culture.

Among the participants are young offenders who arrived a few days earlier than the others. Extrajudicial sentences will be fulfilled here. Amélie inherits the role of assistant cook while Josayan, a big guy of 19 years helps to set up camp. Young people get involved and work in a good mood. ”One day, I see myself as a speaker. I’ve been there, I know what they’re going through. Six, seven years ago, I was a really aggressive guy!” testifies the young man who takes his role as a mentor seriously. This unconventional camp obtains very promising results. ”Out of 18 young people, we only have two who have reoffended. This is equivalent to about 90% less risk that they will reoffend.”, relates Gaétan Gauthier, youth delegate at the SIAA.

Here is an excerpt from an interview with Josayan, 19:

The other young people are under the aegis of the SIAA, the Atikamekw Authority Intervention System, the counterpart of the DPJ, or have been targeted by workers as being at risk of developing delinquent behaviour. But during the stay in the middle of nature, the young people testify to taking a break from the problems of everyday life. ”I feel good here, I feel in my place. I am where I should be. It feels good, especially when it’s been a long time since I spoke Atikamekw,” says Angelina. The 16-year-old girl was placed in foster care when she was just six months old. ”I’ve been through things I shouldn’t have been through. It affected me psychologically. That’s why I started drinking alcohol at 11, smoking cigarettes and also pot at 11,” she continues.

Aboriginal workers, elders and even a spiritual guide accompany the young people. In the morning, small groups set off on the huge lake with their guide, Patrice Ottawa, a cultural worker. Together they will deploy the nets. ”We’re going walleye fishing. In our language we say Okacik.”, he explains. Others will go partridge hunting or set up snares to trap hare. Later, the young people will prepare the animals that they themselves have hunted or fished under the wise advice of the elders, who take the opportunity to tell stories of the time when they were still nomads. ”We teach young people how to set up tents, what kind of sapinage it takes. The importance of each animal and that should not be wasted. The language, the history, we generally touch everything that surrounds the Atikamekw culture,” describes Greg-Yvan Flamand, SIAA community worker.

Here is an excerpt from an interview with Angelina, 16:

Traditional activities are intertwined with various workshops where delicate subjects are broached: behavioral problems, addiction problems, sexuality and justice. For the occasion, two police officers, an agent from Wemotaci and another from the Sûreté du Québec, come to discuss firearms.

The darkness settles and it is in a tent, made the same day, that the spiritual guide, Marcel Petiquay, will tell Atikamekw legends to young people captivated by these stories. The one who is a survivor of residential schools hopes that this meeting will allow teenagers to raise awareness and also discover the richness of ancestral traditions.

Here is an excerpt from an interview with Marcel Petiquay, spiritual guide and residential school survivor:

And later, the whole gang will gather around the fire. Guitar in hand, school principal Sakay Ottawa, also a musician, puts on a show for the audience already soothed by another busy day.

SIAA: support of the child and his family while respecting the culture and the language

The Atikamekw Authority Intervention System, the SIAA, repatriated youth protection services on January 29, 2019, following a long process that will have lasted about twenty years. This is the first agreement of its kind to have emerged between the Government of Quebec and an Aboriginal community. In just over three years, a large majority of young people remain in their community and the rate of court cases has dropped drastically.

Court cases

2018-2019: 41%

2019-2020: 7.75%

2020-2021: 5.66%

Children who stay in an Atikamekw environment

2018-2019: 68%

2019-2020: 90%

2020-2021: 87.5%


Leave a Comment