The sign for Culture Camp Forever| Image Source: Isaac Murdoch’s Facebook
Nimkii Aazhabikong means Village of Thunder Mountain in Anishinaabemowin, the Ojibwe language. It’s the name given to a culture camp being built by a community of youth, Elders and activists beside Ompa Lake, Northern Ontario in traditional Anishinaabe territory. High profile artists, storytellers and activists, Isaac Murdoch (Ojibwe) and Christi Belcourt (Métis) are leading a social media campaign to raise awareness and funds for the camp.
“This is a camp of resurgence,” says Murdoch. “We want it to be for the environment, for the waters and to start getting out on the land and occupying our traditional spaces. Our resurgence is the resistance.”
A major reason for building the camp is to help empower Indigenous youth to follow the traditional governance system and break models that the Indian Act has imposed on Indigenous people. “As they get older, the Indian Act needs to be abolished. We want change and we know it happens with the young people,” says Murdoch. “It doesn’t just happen with people who are stuck in the Indian Act and in contemporary politics.”
Building a culture camp was originally initiated by community Elders who had visions of going back to the traditional ways of the land two years ago. “This was a big dream of [the Elders] because in their lives they were stuck in the reserve system with all sorts of restrictions placed on them,” explains Murdoch. “It was always their dream to get back on the land to exercise who they were as Indigenous people. We thought it would be a really great idea to give life to that vision.”
At the moment the camp is still a work camp with people living mostly in tents and teepees getting prepared to build the actual camp which will include cabins, roundhouses, smokehouses, and a cooking area that are all powered by solar panels. Anyone is welcome to help with the building process of the camp, but must be self sufficient and able to contribute to the community kitchen.
Once Nimkii Aazhabikong is complete anyone who is interested in learning and teaching traditional Indigenous practices can participate in the camp. People will learn skills like tanning moose-hides, building birchbark canoes, Indigenous gardening, traditional arts, smoking wild meats, Anishinaabemowin and how to live off the land in a sustainable way led by camp Elders. “We will be using the wisdom and stewardship from our Elders to make these decisions on hunting and fishing on different spots,” says Murdoch. “We want to make sure that balance is always maintained.”
Both Murdoch and Belcourt say that the camp will be a leader in sustainable energy and set an example for the other culture camps to follow. They plan on expanding. Nimkii Aazhabikong will be a champion of good Mother Earth practices to preserve the environment and resources by using environmentally friendly technology and by producing zero to minimal waste on site.
In Facebook video posts Saturday afternoon, both Murdoch and Belcourt made a call for skilled carpenters to help build the camp, as well as solar panels, water tanks and a water pump to filter and pump water from the lake nearby. With no government funding, Murdoch and Belcourt promote and organize a lot of grassroots funding with online campaigns, art auctions and benefits concerts through the Onaman Collective. The Onaman Collective is a community based social arts and justice organization the duo run, along with Erin Konsmo, with the mandate to help Indigenous communities reclaim their culture, language and traditional way of life. To support the online auction, request to join the Onaman Collective Auction 4 Action Facebook group. If people are interested in donating or learning of others ways to help build the camp they can send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.