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Non-Indians help youth find Ojibwa roots
There are nine young men in what's called the Cultural Wilderness Program, all between their late teens and mid-20s, and all chronically unemployed. Heading in and out of the bush over a 14-week period with either Khan or VanderMolen, they are learning survival skills and traditional Ojibwa practices such as how to kill an animal, spirit it, skin it and prepare its meat.
When not learning how to survive in the bush they are taught traditional leatherwork, Ojibwa history and the forgotten prayer rituals of their ancestors. This is the inaugural class of the Cultural Wilderness Program on Christian Island.
"It's an intense course," Khan says. "This isn't stuff from a textbook. They will use the entire part of the animal – rabbits, porcupine, grouse, snakes – baby blankets will be made from the skin, the meat will be blessed and shared as a communal meal and the innards will left in the bush so other animals can participate. It's about being in the continuity of the life cycle."
Such a traditional understanding of Ojibwa life is seldom taught here any more.