Veterinarian Helps Students Discover their Roots and Confidence through Mamawi Atosketan Native School’s After School Program

By Lynn McDowell

A two-kilometer trek across a frozen lake to go ice fishing may not be everyone’s idea of a great way to reconnect with their roots, but for some of the students in the after school program at Mamawi Atosketan Native School (MANS), near Maskwacis, it’s their top choice when school’s done for the day.

“That was their life [historically],” observes” says program sponsor Ken Hubbard after hiking around a lake with the group at the Winter Activities wrap-up campout in April. “It was rewarding to see young aboriginal people enjoying themselves and reconnecting with nature.”

“Winter is a significant part of the Canadian psyche and is a season that is cherished by millions,” says Winter Activities leader and MANS high school vice principal Mike Willing, pointing out that hockey is one of our national sports.

“Canadians are to winter what Hawaii is to sunshine,” observes Willing, “yet, the joy of winter somehow ends on Boxing Day, packed away with the holiday ornaments and lights. This project aims at bringing joy to the latter half of our winter by encouraging the students and staff at Mamawi Atosketan Native School to get out and enjoy the frozen natural world.”

Enjoy they did. From learning basic outdoor survival skills to snowshoeing, ice fishing, orienteering, and snow carving to learning about traditional medicine, each outing was packed with hands-on experience that translates into fun, wonder, and confidence.

“I’m such a believer in getting these programs going,” says Hubbard. “It’s such a gift for these kids as they grow.”

While Willing’s infectious enthusiasm for the outdoors connected students to their history and the joy of our longest season, a basketball option attracted many of the school’s gifted athletes to after school games and practices.

“I’m really big on sports,” says Hubbard, a veterinarian and owner of Cedarwood Veterinary Hospital, Blackfalds Veterinary Hospital, and Animal Emergency Services. “There are powerful lessons in sports about balance and belonging,” he observes. He’s anxious to see basketball and other after school options expand.

“There’s momentum in MANS’ after school program,” says Hubbard, “and opportunity to build on it. I’m going to put more money into this program next year.”

Good Air - Ramona + student Feb 2016

Good Air: A participant in MANS’ after school Winter Activities program takes flight with Cultural Studies teacher and Winter Activities co-leader Ramona MacKenzie after making snow angels during their ice fishing expedition.

Ice fishing

In for the Long Haul: Excited by the frozen expanse of the Middle Chain Lake, MANS students experienced the thrill of watching carnivorous Northern Pike through the ice as they attacked students’ fishing lures.