“Look—there! It’s a bison!”
It isn’t clear who says it, but suddenly everyone rushes over to the right side of the bus, crowding in the seats to see the massive animal. There are in fact two bison, standing right by the side of the dirt road, happily munching on grass. It’s an auspicious start to the second day of Canada’s Coolest School Trip—almost as though the bison have a copy of the day’s itinerary and are following the schedule.
The winners of this year’s contest, Ms. Keenan’s grade 5, 6, and 7 students from Khàtìnas.àxh Community School in Teslin, Yukon, piled onto the bus first thing after breakfast, going deeper into Riding Mountain National Park. They drove along the still waters of Clear Lake, through the prairie grasslands, until they reached Lake Audy.
Getting off the bus, the students are greeted by the sight of pelicans on the water, drifting by with all the elegance of swans, and ground squirrels darting across a trail into the safety of the tall grass. The students follow the trail around a bend, where it suddenly opens to a flat landing overlooking the lake. Here, a hands-on lesson awaits them: how to raise a teepee.
“It’s about teamwork and being aware of your surroundings,” explains Parks Canada interpreter Desmond Mentuck to the students gathered around him. Spread out on the ground before them are 14 long wooden poles and a large canvas sheet. As Mentuck helps the students, working in pairs, to carefully lift and place the poles, he shares the symbolism inherent in the construction of the teepee for the Anishnaabe, such as the number of poles and their connection to the number of stars in the Big Dipper and Little Dipper.
“The reason the doorway faces east is so it faces the sun when it comes up,” says Mentuck. “It looks like a mother with her arms raised to the sun.”