Jean and I recently spent a glorious eight days on the shores of Great Bear Lake delivering an on-the-land workshop called the Deline Women’s Healing Camp. Woohoo!

The workshop was hosted by the Deline Got’ine Government and was very well organized. The cooks were awesome and spoiled us by having different, delicious, and well-prepared foods all the time. In fact, we ate like kings and queens Mmmm-mmm.

Deline people say, “the lake is the boss,” and we ended up coming to town a few days early due to bad weather. We finished the workshop in town, even workshopping on our travel day, and we were grateful that the weather cooperated as long as it did.

Some of the topics covered at the healing camp were alcoholism as a disease; denial; enabling and co-dependency; after-care planning; relapse prevention; addiction is a family disease; family sculpting; and grief and loss.

Our days had us covering regular workshop material, energizers, and other events designed to build trust and group harmony until the afternoon break. Then the women practised traditional skills like cleaning fish, making smoked fish and fish sticks, scraping hides and picking medicines. The ladies were great sports and participated well.

The Deline Got’ine Government has been building infrastructure at various sites around Great Bear Lake to encourage people to spend more time on the land. Our camp was at Whiskey Jack Bay, which has two large cabins and a kitchen arbour, as well as a large sea-can that is used to safely store things away from bears and out of the weather.

Aside from the infrastructure, what I really liked about the camp is that it was not a bare bones operation.

There were 41 people in camp, including the women, their children, cooking staff, camp attendants, spouses, and ahem, ahem Jean and I — lol. There were an additional six support staff providing boat charters and logistical support from Deline for a total of 47.

Interestingly, we had two sisters and their mother in the woman’s group. Their father was also a harvester for the camp, and the sisters brought their children as well. Truly an example of a family healing together.

There were so many people in camp, we held a men’s sharing circle one evening. One of the main things to come out was that the men wanted to have Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings in Deline. Right on. I have passed the message on while obviously respecting confidentiality.

Jean and Roy Erasmus on a hill with the camp in the background. Photo by Jean Erasmus

Activities created camaraderie

We had a lot of free-time evening activities that people fully participated in. I believe that this helped build feelings of unity and camaraderie among the group and the camp as a whole. We had medicine picking, guided walks and storytelling. A bear visited the camp and luckily didn’t return.

We even had a traditional skills competition that Jean participated in. She lit a fire with one match and without using paper. Yay Jean! Me? I couldn’t participate because of my bad back. Eschia.

We also had a nursery rhyme music bands competition between the groups, the camp attendants, the cooking staff, and the remaining boys and men. It involved around 75 percent of the camp and had everybody absolutely killing themselves laughing and having a great time. My contribution was my team making me play the black sheep.

A very popular ongoing event was beach volleyball, where different groups challenged each other, like the boys against the men or camp attendants against the women. Even former chief Leeroy Andre dropped in to see how the camp was going and participated. So good to see.

And then, we had a wonderful bonfire one night and just spectacular fireworks on another night; we also made a campfire and a bunch of us told scary stories ending with a lot of laughter. Woohoo!

Jean Erasmus splitting her wood in the women’s tea boiling competition. Photo by Roy Erasmus

The skies were filled with stars and magnificent Northern lights, and some witnessed what may have been a UFO. All of these events really brought the camp together and everyone was joking and teasing with one another.

Unfortunately, we had to break camp a few days early on the advice of our Elder as weather forecasts indicated we might be stuck in a very wet camp for up to a week. Everybody was sad to leave early, but “the lake is the boss.”

The group really came together in this camp environment where they were able to fully concentrate on the workshop. They did not have to worry about family, work or other things that sometimes cause people to leave early or to stay home.

One of the best things to come out of the camp was the participants wanting to continue meeting back in Deline to plan and hold healthy events and to discuss changes they want to see in the community.

To show their commitment and support, they are keeping in touch with one another daily and already got together as a group after the workshop ended. Right on, ladies.

Smoking trout fish sticks and dry fish in a tepee. Photo by Jean Erasmus

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