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Youth camp celebrates 10th anniversary

MICHIGAN—For one week at the end of July, 40 tribal youth and 18 counselors and interns from within the Great Lakes Indian tribes gathered at the Ottawa National Forest’s Camp Nesbit to participate in Camp Onji-Akiing, an annual cultural outdoor residential camp.

The camp’s mission is to develop the potential of Native American youth to become natural resource conservation leaders. The week-long camp features educational programs in environmental sciences, natural resources, Native American cultural traditions and treaty rights, and problem-solving. Centered on the Medicine Wheel, programs not only address the physical, but also the emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of adventure-based learning workshops. The camp is open to students from fifth through eighth grade.

Each year, staff from the wildlife commission and forest develop an agenda that incorporates new and updated programs. This year, tribal youth explored the significance of pollinators; planted a pollinator garden as a service learning project; learned about forest values; practiced fishing, canoeing and archery skills; gained confidence and leadership skills through the challenges of a high ropes course and team-building activities; and made cultural connections with the Earth through other camp programs.

To encourage natural resource careers, the camp also hosts an on-site career fair, which allows campers to investigate future opportunities by engaging one-on-one with resource professionals from the wildlife commission, forest, and local colleges and universities. Rounding out the curriculum, campers also practiced fishing, canoeing and archery skills; gained confidence and leadership skills through the challenges of a high ropes course and team-building activities; and made cultural connections by participating in traditional Indian games.

Since 2009, Camp Onji-Akiing, meaning “From the Earth,” has been a significant collaborative venture between the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission and Ottawa National Forest. Working together, Camp Onji Akiing has hosted nearly 400 campers over the course of 10 years. Additionally, many campers return in leadership roles, graduating from camper, to junior counselor, to counselor. Now that is a success story!

Plans are already underway for next summer.

Photo: Lily Palmer demonstrates fishing equipment to watching student.
Forest Service Social Scientist Lily Palmer demonstrates electrofishing techniques during Camp Onjii-Akiing’s career fair. Photo courtesy Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Photo: Group photo of campers, counselors in forest clearing.
Participants in the 10th year of Camp Onji-Akiing on Ottawa National Forest. Photo courtesy of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.