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Cultural Heritage Camp

dot_clear.gifIn 1989 CHEI was able to implement the Cultural Heritage Camp idea that Robert Charlie, his wife Kathy, and Ray Barnhardt (of the University of Alaska's (UAF) Education Department and the Alaska Native Knowledge Network) developed as a way to help to preserve Old Minto.

dot_clear.gifThat year, the first group of camp participants cut and cleared 20-years of accumulated brush, raised a cooking tent, built fish drying racks and cutting tables, assembled a dining area, and dug four outhouse holes.

dot_clear.gifSince that first year, approximately four hundred Alaskan and "Lower 48 States" people have attended these camps to learn first-hand about Athabascan life. These many vistitors have included teachers from UAF's Graduate Education Program and students participating in World Horizons International, a non-profit organization that brings students from New York to learn more about other cultures. The "Youth-at-Risk Camp" is another program, federally funded, which brings young people with troubled backgrounds to Old Minto to provide them with an opportunity to learn more about and instill pride in them of their Athabascan culutre and its traditional ways.

dot_clear.gifOld Minto provides a rich environment for learning many things. "One of the things I learned at this camp was the element of patience," Marcia (a teacher at Glennallen, Alaska) remarked after her camp experience in 1998. "I come from the East where everything always has to get done very, very, very fast. At Old Minto, there was just a whole different perspective of time, knowing everything would get accomplished but you didn't have to put this undue stress on yourself to get these accomplishments done-and...everything did get done. It's a different rhythm, a different can take time to enjoy what you're doing."


The Elders

dot_clear.gif Native elders, originating from throughout Alaska and primarily Minto, teach camp participants about native culture and native ways of knowing. As members of the last generation to have participated fully in their traditional Alaska native cultures, the elders hope to convey their knowledge to as many people as possible.

dot_clear.gifGeraldine Charlie, an Elder and teacher from Minto teaches birchbark weaving. Camp participant Jennifer McCarty observed that "Geraldine sat in front or her tent all day as a steady stream of students stopped by to learn how to make birchbark canoes, baskets or picture frames. The whole time, she remained patient and cheerful and didn't get up from teaching...Even after an entire day of teaching students, she still worked at the same pace, showing us, a pattern, getting out the pieces of birchbark, cutting it for us, searching for the right size of split willow roots to sew with and thin willow branches for the edges." McCarty also noted that "Whenever an Elder would teach us how to do something, they would merely act as guides...They would give the occasional suggestion if they knew a way that would help get the job done better, but they would never make any discouraging remarks. They were always full of compliments."

The Lessons and Benefits of Culture Camp

dot_clear.gifThe elders instruct by demonstrating a wide variety of traditional activities, including fisheries practices, fish preservation, outdoors skills, weather prediction, wilderness navigation, birch bark/spruce root basketry, beading, canoe construction, traditional native dress, dance composition, storytelling, and singing.

dot_clear.gifDuring their stay participants have the unique opportunity to:

  • Live in a remote Alaskan river village
  • Gain greater insight into the traditional Athabascan culture, ways of life, and people
  • Learn more about an Interior Alaskan non-profit organization striving to bridge urban and rural ways of life

dot_clear.gif Old Minto is currently available to be used as a retreat center for businesses, individuals, and other special programs, hosting a variety of Athabascan culture-related seminars, workshops, survival training, and arts/crafts skills training. Proponents of these programs suggest that cross-cultural orientation sessions, such as those offered at Old Minto, are needed as training for locally-based federal, state, and corporate/business agencies to better serve their local community.

dot_clear.gif With recent budgetary cuts in the larger local social service agencies, a greater need now exists for accessible programs such as recovery services for dysfunctional families and individuals. CHEI hopes to meet these community-based needs by increasing the quantity of its culture camp programs, extending them to be offered throughout the year, and thus reaching a greater population. The first step for this proposed growth is the intended cabin restoration project.


dot_clear.gifAccomodations at the camp are rustic, but reasonably comfortable. While at the camp, participants and staff live in tents, re-creating the environment and activities of an Athabascan summer fishing camp. Sleeping quarters consist of either small tents brought by camp participants, or multi-person canvas wall tents provided by the camp. CHEI provides wooden bunks and foam pads. A staffed camp kitchen and communal dining area provide three meals per day and snacks. There is no piped pressure water system at the site and potable water is hauled from a nearby well. River water is filtered for washing dishes, bathing, etc. and all water must be heated over a stove or fire. Toilet facilities consist of outhouses.

Are You Interested in Attending One of These Camps?

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Old Minto Cultural Heritage and Educational Institution
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