Circle of Life-Long Learning blends traditions of the past with generations of the future

Last week, the Waterloo Aboriginal Education Centre (WAEC) at the University of Waterloo’s St. Paul’s University College hosted its first ever Circle of Life-Long Learning interactive summer camp. The five-day program offered a fun and engaging learning experience for Aboriginal families - 13 youth and 8 caregivers - from across southwestern Ontario through a Higher Education Learning grant graciously provided by the Lyle S. Hallman Foundation.

Youth participants of the Circle of Life-Long Learning camp pose with hoops

The Circle of Life-Long Learning camp was designed to engage, inform, and entertain participants while exploring the power and possibilities of science, technology, and engineering in a culturally based setting. Weaved together by program facilitator, Kelly Laurila, the First Nations’ Seven Sacred Teachings (wisdom, respect, bravery, honesty, humility, truth, and love) were used as a tool to educate and bring the group together. Learning about these special areas of human conduct allowed both youth and caregivers to build new bonds with one another, expanding their community networks of support.

Aboriginal hoop dancer helps young girl Each morning kicked off with a prayer, a song, and a traditional purification ceremony referred to as smudging, giving participants hands-on insight into traditional Aboriginal rituals. Some of the cultural programming throughout the week included a hoop dancing workshop, drumming with the Good-Hearted Woman Singers, Aboriginal craft making, and singing songs by a sacred fire. Campers also participated in a diverse range of educational opportunities, including science demonstrations by Engineering Science Quest, a tour of a residential school, cooking lessons with renowned Indigenous Chef Kai Zyganiuk, as well as a keynote speech delivered by accomplished athlete and Muay Thai kickboxer, Ashley Nichols.

By blending wisdom and traditions of the past with generations of the future, the Circle of Life-Long Learning showed campers how to get in touch with their roots in new ways, allowing them to engage in education through a progressive social environment. This innovative program not only gives aboriginal families a chance to connect culturally, but more importantly, its unique integration of Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods enhance each participant’s sense of belonging to their heritage and to our community.