Camp blends Native lore, science, serious canoeing

Posted: Monday, May 12, 2003

Anna Buchanan said paddling the last in a line of canoes was hard work. But by the end of a weeklong canoe trip near Hoonah last summer, "I was in the front," the middle school student said happily.

Camp W.A.T.E.R., a three-week summer camp that blends Native knowledge, Western science and some serious canoeing, is still looking for applicants.

The camp's name stands for wilderness, adventure, traditions, exploration and research.

"There's no way you can be at that camp and be a loner," Buchanan said, "because there are so many group activities to go to."

The camp, a federally funded program of the Juneau School District, can accept up to 40 middle school students. The deadline to apply has been extended to May 19. Applications are available at the middle schools.

Students this year will spend a week canoeing in Mitchell Bay near Angoon, as well as a week at a Native culture camp at the Methodist Camp near Eagle Beach in Juneau.

"The camp really blends Native ways of knowing and Western science," said Angie Lunda, a Juneau science teacher who has taught at the camp and served as cultural coordinator.

"It's just a great way to get kids staying in school and interested in pursuing science as a discipline," she added.

Ten students at time, supervised by a teacher, a naturalist and a guide, will go on the canoe trip. Naturalist Jeff Jemison, who helped out with the camp's canoe trips out of Hoonah last summer, said students learn cooperation while studying nature.

"Some of the kids had never paddled a canoe before. Some had never camped out," he said.

Children combed the beaches, looked for tracks, identified plants, and did a little swimming and fishing, he said.

At the culture camp in Juneau, run by the Tlingit-Haida Community Council, students will learn about the traditional ways of hunting, gathering and fishing, combined with a scientific perspective, Lunda said. Elders will speak about Tlingit values, and scientists will talk about the scientific method.

Buchanan, now an eighth-grader at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, said she and a friend at last summer's camp did a project on Native "ice cream," which basically was whipped berries. At the culture camp, she learned Tlingit songs and heard stories.

"We learned a lot of Tlingit stories and how they lived back then," Buchanan said.

Eric Fry can be reached at

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