Prairie Valley School Division community members cleaning fish, as part of land-based learning for youth. Photos courtesy of Kelsey Starblanket

How Kelsey Starblanket's teachings help youth find purpose

March, 2023

The role of an oskâpêwis begins with a person’s commitment to leaving a strong legacy of cultural teachings for future generations. Being on this journey has led Kelsey Starblanket to share his knowledge with Indigenous youth helping them learn how to live life with balance and purpose.

In fall of 2021, Starblanket Cree Nation hosted a Tipi Camp for students thanks to funding from the Aboriginal Arts and Cultural Leadership grant, and selected Starblanket to oversee the camp’s delivery. “The goal of the Tipi Camp was to create a cohort of students who would be bonded by sharing a unique experience out on the land engaging in traditional activities,” explains Starblanket, cultural advisor, Prairie Valley School Division. As well, the camp offered students the opportunity to experience cultural practices in their natural surroundings and territory.

Starblanket said he guided the camp with his personal teachings as an oskâpêwis in mind. “As is said in our nehiyaw language, ‘nitotemok,’ which means listening not just with your ears, but with your eyes, body, spirit and entire being, was the guiding force of the camp.”

Students were able to pick medicinal plants and learn skills on how to survive on the land without the everyday reliance of technology that they normally use. They would also gather, prepare and cook food while learning traditional teachings around the importance of fire. “To learn that once the home fire is lit, it must be maintained or it will go out, was another important component to the camp,” Starblanket says.

As with many programming plans in a pandemic, the Tipi Camp had to adjust to reduced hours spent together, as well as omitting a sweat ceremony and adjusting a pipe ceremony to ensure the safety of the youth involved. But that did not mean the youth were unable to bond, Starblanket says. “We were able to raise a new Prairie Valley School Division painted Tipi and we also partook in the unveiling of a new school division flagstaff. This allowed us to exhibit ‘togetherness’ in a different way.”

Although the camp was geared towards advancing the learning of the students involved, Starblanket says there isn’t a day that goes by that he isn’t learning more about his role as an oskâpêwis. “I have learned to live my life in balance and to teach this balance to the youth, only to help them realize that they have a purpose.”

With support from the school division, as well as his family and Nation, Starblanket said he is already thinking about ways to further develop the delivery of the Tipi Camp. “The next camp will start with identity and it will be the focus of the camp to instill pride [within the youth],” he says. By instilling pride within Indigenous youth, he believes this will set them on the right journey to lead by example for future generations, too. “We need to reawaken things that seem to have been forgotten and to show and lead by example, not just for them but for all human beings now and into the future.”