Connecting To The Land To Survive And Thrive

Wilderness Mobile Healing Lodge

Crime Prevention Fund

Since the 1980s, Charlie Louttit has been actively examining his own personal life and self-care, his Cree identity and relationship with elders, and his role in the Cree community. With a lengthy career in counselling and community justice work, he is focused on utilizing his skills to best serve his people. This year was no exception and his Wilderness Mobile Healing Lodge for Cree youth set out on the land once again for a month-long healing journey.

This past winter, Charlie took 65 youth into the bush for a 28-day program where they journeyed by snowshoe, learning various aspects of Eeyou traditional knowledge and skills such as water, ice, and boat safety, and living off the land. Some of the youth are high-risk while others have been in the corrections system before; Charlie helps them reconnect with the land as a conduit for healing. The 100km-walk takes them from one lake to another where elders are gathered to pass on oral traditions to the youth.

Charlie knows that this type of learning is not provided in regular school curriculum and is only accessible through relationships with elders who hold this sacred knowledge. “The Grandfathers’ teachings are essential to the survival of Cree youth,” states Charlie. “Outside exist the values and connections to the land, and the youth simply need to learn these skills to survive and thrive.”

After staying a week with the elders, Charlie and the participants make the journey home. Charlie has found that the youth begin to let go of distractions and open up to each other and themselves through this new awareness of the land that helps them reconnect with their senses. "Many of us dream to be out there, but if you don’t have the skills, you won't survive," says Charlie. "Birthright is important – every person has a spirit. The Cree philosophy is: in everything out there - the trees, the land, water, rocks - everything has a spirit. Listen to that. It’s intuition! It’s all connected."

Charlie applied for Crime Prevention funding knowing that youth have been separated from their culture and often do not possess the self-esteem needed to choose positive lifestyles. The Wilderness Mobile Healing Lodge aims to support the youth as they try to be identified and accepted for who they are. Essentially, to work together to help the youth define their personal Cree identity.

By learning traditional Cree ways, youth are able to find both confidence and a voice. Charlie often reminds his youth participants that these are years of internal and external conflict, with different influences and values coming from all around us; hence, those who are less aware of their traditions and culture find it hard to stay connected and grounded.

Charlie is grateful for the funding and has received much positive feedback with youth wanting more of the same experience. “Survival is a hard teacher,” Charlie points out, “but learning how to survive outdoors is empowering for these kids. Within their families and community, they are often faced with the intergenerational trauma of residential schools, and so this program gives them the opportunity to experience choices, shows them that they have the power within themselves to take action and make better decisions.”

The Wilderness Mobile Healing Lodge program allows Charlie and his colleagues to teach about respect for the land and for the youth, that discovering Cree knowledge and strength will draw communities together, and most importantly, to communicate to youth that they are valuable members of their Nation.