Métis Nation of Saskatchewan offers dogsledding event as a way to pass on culture

·6 min read

On a bright sunny March Saturday, the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan Eastern Region III teamed up with Eagle Ridge Dog Sled Tours to provide a fun and informative adventure for Métis youth and youths in the Moose Mountain area.

President of the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan Eastern Region III, Local #182, Dexter Mondor, says they wanted to hold camps over the summer but were unable to due to COVID-19, so they decided to hold dogsled tours instead.

“We partnered with Garrick Schmidt, who is the owner and founder of Eagle Ridge Dog Sled Tours. He came out on Saturday to do a dogsledding tour and demonstration for Métis citizens or the Moose Mountain local area. The Saskatchewan Métis Nation paid for it through Eastern Region III. There’s a program called Urban Programming for Indigenous People and we get funds allocated to us every year to engage our citizens. Last summer we were going to do some youth camps through the region, but because of COVID it had to be pushed back and we had to revamp and decided to do this,” Mondor explained.

While the first group that went on the tour measured around 10 people, the crowd quickly grew with Mondor saying there were groups of around 60 throughout the day.

The event was not just for fun, however. Mondor says it acted as a way to help Métis youth connect with their culture and history.

“I’ve always known through my family that we were Métis but I didn’t know how or why. I eventually started going to a few local meetings with the Métis Nation then became president of the Moose Mountain area and now I’m on a couple of other boards. I learned more about the history and back in the 40’s, the war-times, Métis families did not want to be known as Métis because they were shunned. They could not live on reserves, they could not live in town, they lived in rural areas. A lot of families would say they were French or European to get aid from the government during depression times. There’s that missing link where there are no stories about great-great-grandma or grandpa, there are gaps where those stories and traditions were not passed on. This is just a way to get out there and help these people learn their past and their history in a positive way. There are way more positive than there are negative about the Métis people. I find it very informative and I can share it with my kids who can carry it on, whereas I didn’t have that opportunity with my family.”

Dogsledding played a large role in Métis culture during the fur trade, providing a reliable method of transportation for hunters and trappers.

Mondor says they previously had planned to host the summer camps with Schmidt, who frequently teaches students land-based learning in Ochapowace First Nation.

“We were actually going to be using Garrick to run our camps, he’s actually a Métis citizen and is a land-based educator. He teaches at Ochapowace First Nation. He does things like taking his Grade 9 students out to harvest and process a bison. They use the hide and everything, like the meat and sinew. They live off the land for a week. They learn medicine, the fruits and berries you can use. All types of skills. He has family connections who do dogsled and he’s always wanted to get into it. He brought his dogsled down to the area a few years ago and he’s been doing it slowly and we saw it as a great way to reintroduce dogsledding to Métis people because it hasn’t been around for decades.”

“It’s a hobby and a second career choice for him, so we thought it was a great idea and it was unique.”

Mondor says that Schmidt is already booking tours into next year thanks to the popularity of the event.

Garrick Schmidt, who founded and operates Eagle Ridge Dog Sled Tours, says the weekend event was not unlike the classes he teaches.

“Right now we’re doing a ‘Land Use’ study with the Métis Nation in the Eastern Region III and I proposed the idea of doing a tour around the different areas in the region for the youth and the adults to bring people out together. Down south, dogsledding is an old thing but a new thing. Being one of the few guys who runs dogs in the south and doing tours in the area as well, we thought it was a really good chance to bring the kids out and give them some history.

We were also able to teach them a bit about the dogs and how we use them. It goes well with the land-based program I run at Ochapowace.”

He says that in Ochapowace First Nation he takes the students on hunting trips where they live off the land, something that gives them life skills while teaching the students their ancestors’ traditions.

“I teach the middle years and take them on a hunting camp each year. We did the Grade 8s first and we actually ended up processing a bison. We taught them how to skin animals and its uses. Then with the Grade 9’s we did another hunting camp and harvested a bull moose. We did the same thing and taught them how to process it, then the students take that hide and turn it into leather for moccasins and whatnot. The Grade 6’s caught a deer and the Grade 7’s got a deer and a bull elk. For each of the different grades, we were able to get out in the bush and show them how to make teepees and trappers tents. We gave them the traditional teachings that they can take back to their families.”

Schmidt says that teaching the youth of their traditions is important as many traditional teachings were lost in the past.

“As years go on with the detrimental side-effects of residential schools and the ‘60s Scoop, a lot of families and youth in our indigenous communities really don’t know a lot about our history and traditional practices. Being able to go and educate the youth in the school that I teach at and even just the dog tours are bringing that education back, even to our non-indigenous youth. It’s really vital to do this so we can spark that fire and learn about what our ancestors did on a daily basis.”

Plans for a camp are still in the works but will be dependant on COVID-19 restrictions in the summer months.

Spencer Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The World-Spectator