Pikwakanagan – John Paul (JP) Kohoko and Dale Benoit-Zohr are proud Algonquin members and have taken it upon themselves to make sure the young people who reside on or off the Reserve at Pikwakanagan understand and embrace their history and culture.
It is for that reason Mr. Kohoko and his Aunt Dale spent most of this past weekend on Golden Lake and, as Mr. Kohoko said, “we are going old school” where they shared the rarely-used skill of jigging a fish line in order to not only catch some fish, but show the youth how their ancestors used their unique skills to catch fish on their traditional lake.
“This is something Dale and I have been talking about doing for a while,” he said. “Our youth are overwhelmed with modern technology and so many distractions that sometimes they forget about who they are and where they come from. It’s not their fault and it is just the way the world is. But getting them out on the ice and working with them in small groups gives them a chance to reconnect with their culture.”
Neither Mr. Kohoko nor Mrs. Benoit-Zohr are strangers to teaching and helping promote and preserve their culture and history. Mrs. Benoit has devoted much of her time to helping many in her community by spearheading a local food delivery service for elders on the reserve along with devoting countless hours over the last few years helping in the cleanup efforts affected by the floods that hit the area on two occasions over the last five years.
Mr. Kohoko devoted time last year taking youth to a camp he held in Algonquin Park to teach them trapping and hunting. He said less and less emphasis is put on the basic skills which were once every day occurrences at Golden Lake and Algonquin Park.
“Myself and Cliff Meness took some kids into the park to expose them to the skills of trapping and it is something that Algonquins have always been good at doing,” he said. “It’s too bad we lost August (Commanda) a couple of years ago because he was one of the best trappers ever to come out of our area and I learned some things from him. We are carrying on his legacy and all those who came before him and teach the kids about our history.”
Over the years any expenses for these types of ventures came out of his pocket and he didn’t mind fronting the costs.
“I would take my kids hunting or trapping or fishing and I figured why not take a few more so they can be exposed to nature and understand how we should respect our earth and when we do hunt or fish or trap, we do it responsibly and in the way of our ancestors,” he said.
He is happy that over the last couple of years there has been an increase in sponsorship of these types of cultural camps and that makes it much more enticing to include more children and more adult instructors to join them and share their knowledge.
“This ice-fishing weekend we invited a gentleman who really knows his stuff when it comes to jigging a line to catch the fish,” he said. “When I asked him if he was interested, he barely let me finish explaining what we were doing when he asked where and when. It is that kind of dedication to our youth that makes it all worth it in the end.”
When the youth and adults gathered Friday evening for a fun night before the ice-fishing began, they met in the Elder’s Lodge for a meal and a chance to get to know each other.
“We chose the Elder’s Lodge because it is important for all of us to gather in a place that is dedicated to our elders as a sign of respect and show them the importance of understanding the history and culture of Pikwakanagan.”
He said it was a perfect sunny weekend for the camp and the ice was also perfect for ice-fishing. The eight children who attended were a mix of those who live at Pikwakanagan and those who live as far away as Ottawa.
“For some of our youth, this will be their first time on Golden Lake to go ice-fishing, let alone using the jigger board technique,” he said. “It was an eye-opener for them and for Dale, myself and the other volunteers we had, we were having fun and thrilled to be able to share our knowledge with them.”
When asked if there was a special Pikwakangan name for these mini-cultural excursions, he said they are called Cultural Connections.
“One of the things I want to do is translate the name into a name that is Algonquin and that will be something special. For the kids, they will go home and tell their friends how they spent the weekend and hopefully, share the name of the camp in their native language.”