I was told the action was in the kitchen shelter. As I walked towards the building, I immediately raised my camera to take a picture of a youngster playing caribou by holding a pair of icicles to her head like antlers. No sooner was the picture taken when Samara, a very outgoing three-year-old grabbed my hand saying, “Come, now.”
She led me through the plastic that was hanging over the door opening, through the crowd of school children, elders and other family members, straight to a table at the back of the room. She pointed to the table where a group of elders were skinning muskrats and explaining what they were doing to attentive children.
“Rats,” she said.
“Do you like muskrats?” I asked.
“I like to eat ’em,” she said, and then she disappeared.
The spring muskrat camp is an annual event organized by Kluane Lake School with the participation of the Kluane and White River First Nations.
In March, students and teachers from Kluane Lake School and Nelna Bessie John School in Beaver Creek moved into wall tents at the Lake Creek Campground and spent a week learning about being on the land from elders, experienced trappers and their regular teachers. This year an experiential science class from Vanier Catholic Secondary joined them.
There were no electronics in sight but none of the children looked the tiniest bit bored. The ones that weren’t busy skinning, stretching muskrats or nibbling on roasted muskrat tails (really), were talking to elders — learning the names of all the interior and exterior parts of a muskrat in Southern and Northern Tutchone and Upper Tanana — or eating healthy platefuls of food with appetites fueled by the long days outside.
Later in the day I followed a group that was going out to check the traps. Local trapper Luke Johnson and his assistant, Marcel Dulac, were teaching the children about trapping and how to stay safe in the bush during winter.
“You see that snow on your gloves and on your snow pants?” asked Dulac. “Brush that off. You need to learn how to stay dry. We are going to be out here all afternoon.”
All the children got to see how the traps were set — under the water through holes cut in the ice — and share in celebration of a caught muskrat or beaver.
By the end of the day there were approximately 25 muskrat hides stretched and leaning up against the wall to dry, all the elders got a sealed bag of muskrat meat to take home and everyone that wanted to got to taste a bit themselves.
There were five generations at the camp, as well as partner organizations that included Artists in the School, the Yukon Literacy Coalition and Yukon Environment, all learning and teaching each other.