Something old, something new: Manitou learns about its aboriginal heritage

Last Friday evening, we had a special Manitou treat. Guest speaker Maurice Switzer came to us from the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nations community. During our weekly Fireside ceremony, Maurice shared with us a history of the Manitou land we’ve come to call home, as well as the origin and meaning of the Native word “Manitou.” The word means spirit, referring to a life force that animates all beings — humans, animals, and nature.

Many of us go out to experience nature, only to end up documenting it on social media without actually respecting it or breathing it in. These days, even cottages are wifi and HDTV-equipped. Manitou prides itself on the absence of digital distraction, but then, here we are blogging twice a week.

So, how do we reverse the effects of our internet-addled culture? How do we learn to see the sunsets again, to commune with our natural surroundings as they exist?

At Manitou, this question lies at the heart of our Friday Night Fireside ritual. Every Friday night we gather at the edge of camp, as far away from digital distraction as the land allows. And beneath a sun-dappled awning of tall trees, we sit together and stare out onto the lake. We light candles. We read poems. We sing. And if we’re lucky, this sense of inner peace carries us through to the following Friday.

While this ritual is embedded in the camp’s 18-year history under Mark and Jeff, it is by no means the superlative history of Camp Manitou. Before us, there were those that settled the land we walk on every summer.  That’s why we so loved the camp dialogue that Maurice’s words began. Respect for the environment may seem intrinsic to the Aboriginal community, but it is still a value they instill among their people. Respect is learned, even as it is lived.

Maurice Switzer also spoke to our CIT group about Native culture, what it means to smudge, and how to cultivate empathy (another topic we’re always thinking about). We’re excited to announce that for the first time, CITs will have the opportunity to visit a local reservation near Parry Sound for their Pow-wow ceremony and to learn about the crafts they produce.

It is thanks to the efforts of community organizers like Maurice Switzer that Canadians are finally becoming aware of the systemic racism that has affected, and continues to affect, all Aboriginal peoples. And unfortunately for all of our consciences, summer camps are still run on lands that were taken away from indigenous communities.

Manitou is no exception, but we work daily to cultivate an intrinsic awe at our natural surroundings and our historic heritage that might one day seem synonymous with camp again. It is the first step toward seeing the sunset for what it is.


Manny the Moose & The Entire Manitou Family