Winter Is Coming

It’s now October, nearly November, and winter is fast approaching. These days the camps wake up to frost on car windows and sighs that make little clouds in the air.

Much of the daily work is focused on preparing for the coming months, which locals talk about ominously. “Have you ever experienced -40 degree weather?” I’ve heard several people ask. “Well get ready.”

Men on horseback approach the security gate at the Sacred Stone Camp.

Tyson holds together branches that make up the waakaa’igan, or long house, he’s helping build. The waakaa’igan is a traditional Anishinaabeg structure made from branches and insulated with various materials – in this case, blankets and tarps. Waakaa’igans, teepees, yurts, and walled tents are main structures that will house those hardy enough to stay through the winter.

Preparing for seasonal change is an integral part of living in harmony with nature. At one point or another, all of our ancestors had the skills to do so, but now so many of us lack even basic knowledge about living in cold climates without indoor heating, plumbing, and electricity. We’ve insulated ourselves from the natural world and as a consequence, have misconstrued our relationship with it.

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, the official head of Sacred Stone, lays out donated sweet corn to dry in the sun. The dried corn can be rehydrated and eaten during the winter.

I say “we” in an overly general way, but I don’t mean everyone. Such knowledge is still alive in the people (mostly First Nations people, but others as well) who are orchestrating the preservation of food and building of natural shelters, as well as sharing their knowledge with others. They’re keeping alive generational memories of thousands of years spent living with the land, while demonstrating how it’s possible to do so today.

Kima and Michael make pear-apple sauce as part of a canning project to preserve produce for colder months.

I personally know very little about surviving outside in subzero conditions. To be honest, I’m nervous and not entirely sure I’m up to the challenge. The only reason I feel confident enough to try is that time and time again, I’ve experienced and born witness to incredible support from the camp community. However harsh this winter will be, we’re all going to get through it together, seasoned winter campers and cold-averse newbies alike. I imagine that almost as much as practical knowledge, it’s this sense of collective responsibility that helped our ancestors survive the winter too.

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