Happy Campers: Second Annual “Leaders for our Planet” Youth Leadership Camp in
Wapusk National Park

Heather MacLeod
Heritage Presenter: Wapusk National Park & Manitoba North National Historic Sites

2010 Camp participants near Churchill 2010 Camp participants near Churchill
© Parks Canada

Wapusk National Park (NP) was proud to host its second annual “Leaders for our Planet” high school student leadership camp from July 8-13, 2010. This event is designed to bring students from various communities in Manitoba to Churchill and Wapusk NP to learn, study and experience what it means to be an ambassador for the environment. The long-term sustainability of Wapusk NP will depend on engaged youth who see the relevance of the Park and of environmental stewardship in their lives. Our camp strives to give these students a foundation of leadership skills that they can take back to their respective communities.

What began as a roster of students’ names from several schools in Manitoba ended as a cohesive group of happy campers from Winnipeg and Norway House Cree Nation. The week was jam-packed with activities for the 12 students and 5 facilitators. Myself, and the other three Parks Canada staff facilitators, were fortunate to be joined by Doug Braden, the resource teacher from Helen Betty Osborne School in Norway House, who accompanied the students on both overnight trips to and from Thompson and was a valuable contributor to the in-camp lecture series.

The students began their adventure with an overnight train trip from Thompson to Churchill. Upon arrival, the pace was fast: check gear - have orientation - go whale watching - tour Prince of Wales Fort National Historic Site - drive to the Churchill Northern Studies Centre - set up blogs - attend lecture - learn arts with a Churchill Elder! And that was only Day One! The next day featured a short, exciting helicopter ride to the research camp, Nester One. Pilot Jon Talon from Hudson Bay Helicopters made such an impression that several of our students put a career in aviation at the top of their list!

Katherine Meese and Stephen Paupanekis find caribou antlers near the Nester One research camp Katherine Meese and Stephen Paupanekis find caribou antlers near the Nester One research camp
© Parks Canada

The remote camp, Nester One, is located on a raised beach ridge within Wapusk NP. This cosy enclosure would be our home for the week’s adventures! The camp itself is not what most summer campers experience. For example, there is no swimming hole or lake for canoe tripping. Instead, there is a compound equipped with bunkhouse, lookout tower, cookhouse and bathroom facility - all surrounded by a sturdy polar bear-proof fence. (There is a basketball net, but the ball always seemed to be on the wrong side of the fence...)

After an enthusiastic welcome by the local mosquito population, we were off onto the land to find our “tundra legs.” Activities at camp were focused on developing leadership skills as well as understanding more about Wapusk NP’s unique ecosystem. We were fortunate to try our hand at field research. Scientist Dr. Paul Hebert, from the University of Guelph, lent us malaise traps and pit-fall traps to collect flying bugs, beetles and spiders for his ongoing DNA study. It was the perfect night for bug traps, as the flying insects were fierce, but the students prevailed and were able to make an active contribution to this important on-going research.

Our forays onto the land were productive and offered many team-building opportunities. We explored the area surrounding the camp, marked locations of fox dens with our GPS units, learned about the human history of the area as we crouched behind an ancient hunting blind and scoured the coastline for fossils. Evenings were reserved for Park Management Workshops where we discussed and debated land use in Wapusk NP. Our day-long hike, an eight hour walk through fens, bogs, beach ridges and thick boot-sucking mud, has been unanimously referred to as the “Epic Hike”. With encouragement from our Leaders-in-Training, and fuelled with trail mix and granola bars, we all arrived back in camp exhausted but triumphant! To top it all off we saw two moose!

The students and facilitators enjoyed tremendous support from the Churchill community. We were privileged to join Myrtle DeMuelles, a well known Churchill Elder, as she shared her unique method for sculpting caribou hide into beautiful art. And we were delighted to have an interactive presentation from Stanley Spence, one of the area’s more experienced trappers, as he shared stories from the land. The Churchill Northern Studies Centre, as always, fed us very well and we would like to extend thanks to all the staff that made us feel so welcome!

As part of their leadership training, the students worked on successful PowerPoint presentations, setting up and writing an internet blog and public speaking skills. This was put to good use on the last day of camp when the Leaders-in-Training presented a 30-minute showcase of their Wapusk Adventure to Parks Canada staff and the general public.

The students did themselves proud and we were delighted to see them united and confident as they shared their experience. The Parks Canada staff would like to thank all that put their hearts and minds into this successful endeavour and we wish the students the very best in their ongoing journey as Leaders for our Planet and ambassadors for Wapusk NP.

Camp Facilitators: Doug Braden (Resource Teacher, Helen Betty Osborne School in Norway House) and Parks Canada staff Karyne Jolicoeur-Funk (Interpretation Coordinator), Jill Larkin (Resource Conservation -Polar Bear Monitor), Heather MacLeod (Heritage Presenter), Lisa Small (Student Photographer/Videographer).
Leaders-in-Training (alphabetical order): RaeDawn Balfour, Saige Braden, Garrett Dosch, Jonathon Flatfoot, Brianna Flatfoot, Mackenzie Guiboche, Katherine Meese, Walter Muskwagon, Stephen Paupanekis, Teekca Spence, YunJin Wang, Kia Wilson.