White Eye Traditional Knowledge Camp
The White Eye Traditional Knowledge Camp is the manifestation of the ideas and concerns that Gwich’in Elder Paul Williams Sr. had regarding the local knowledge of Gwich’in Elders and its survival. Intended as a place of learning for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples alike, the Camp is in its first year and continues to be developed for future students. As of now the Camp consists only of a few basic improvements: this summer a smokehouse, an outhouse, and a fish wheel were constructed, as well as areas cleared for tents. The camp was attended (2016) by nine people ranging in age from 11 to 79 years of age, and all participated at their own expense.
As we continue to develop the Camp, we are using in part as a model the Old Minto Camp that still exists as a substance abuse recovery camp, and that used to host the Center for Cross- Cultural Studies’ traditional knowledge class and camp attended by University of Alaska graduate students. It is our hope that this now-inactive initiative can be revived, but now at White Eye on the middle Yukon River between the communities of Beaver and Fort Yukon.
Two University of Alaska Fairbanks students joined the camp last summer (2016) at their own expense, though the camp is not yet ready for accepting fee-paying university students at this time. It is our hope that this capacity can be attained for next summer (2018), or at the latest the summer thereafter.
Currently the Camp is located near a place called in English “White Eye” on eighty acres owned by Mr. Williams. He is dedicated and devoted to using his own resources for this effort, but with such limited resources those of us involved cannot fund the camp’s needs individually. We therefore seek support for this effort. As a faculty member with the Center for (Department of) Cross-Cultural Studies I am acting as a facilitator for this effort and I consider myself an ongoing student of the local, traditional, Indigenous knowledge of Elders such as Paul Williams. Other Elders, too, would be asked to participate in this program once it is fully operational.
Activities at the camp include a great array of skill-building efforts: hide tanning, fishing, fish and meat cutting, making and using snares and traps, building and using a fish wheel, maintaining and using gill nets, survival skills, cooking and preservation of food (especially meat and fish), canoe-making, sled-making, and much more. Important, though, is that not only practical skills such as these are taught, but moral and ethical considerations and behaviors are also taught, and these are meaningfully situated within local and Gwich’in worldviews, lifeways, and cosmology. The connections between daily and survival activities with behavior and self-conduct are emphasized within the holistic local knowledge systems.
The White Eye Traditional Knowledge Camp is an effort to preserve and revitalize the local traditional Indigenous knowledge carried by Gwich’in culture-bearers by passing it on to younger generations who can use it in their day-to-day lives—both for external needs and for internal ‘tools’ for coping with life’s challenges. Through the efforts of the Elders who are and/or who will be associated with the Camp, coupled with the support of UAF’s Center for Cross-Cultural Studies and our generous financial supporters, we hope to disseminate and translate the Elders’ knowledge, with their help and guidance. As with the associated Gwich’in Elders’ Traditional Knowledge Project, the primary goal of the Camp is cultural and linguistic revitalization for the health and wellbeing of local communities, and the passing on of this knowledge to all who are interested.