Students as young as 12 years old are learning how to trap on traditional territory

Adults from the Poplar Hill First Nation show off traps they made in a course offered in the community this season.Adults from the Poplar Hill First Nation show off traps they made in a course offered in the community this season

People in an Ontario First Nations community are relearning the skill of trapping for fur, reconnecting with history and the land — and they’re becoming certified in the process.

A weeklong trapping course was offered by the Keewaytinook Okimakanak Board of Education to Grade 7 and 8 students during this past trapping season, which ran from October until early spring.

It was also offered to adults receiving Ontario Works benefits on the Poplar Hill First Nation, located in the northwestern part of the province.

The courses were taught by Kaaren Dannenmann, 67, originally from Trout Lake, Ont., who has been a trapping instructor for the past two decades in northern Ontario.

“I found that trapping was one way we can stay on the land; otherwise, we were being slowly pushed off,” Dannenmann said.

“Our traditional relationships with the land was being broken and strained, and not taught to the children.”

Students to receive certification

Dannenmann’s course is offered through the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. To qualify for a trapping licence, each participant must complete this 40-hour course.

Those who took the course, some as young as 12 years old, learned basic survival skills and humane trapping methods. They also learned how to skin an animal and make their own marten box, along with cultural teachings about animals and the land.

Katelyn Campbell

Katelyn Campbell, 13, says she hopes to apply what she has learned in the course when she goes trapping with her cousin. (Supplied by Kaaren Dannenmann)

They will be certified by the Grand Council Treaty 3, the traditional government of the Anishinaabe Nation in Treaty No. 3. The certification will allow them to place a trapline — a route along which a trapper sets their traps to catch fur-bearing animals — while accompanied with a head trapper, such as a family member.

Katelyn Campbell, 13, participated in the weeklong course in her home community. She scored the highest grade on a test at the end of the program.

“We set traps and tested them out,” said Campbell, a Grade 8 student at A. Scatch Memorial School on the Poplar Hill First Nation.

“The course was fun because I was able to learn about new things like how to build, set and use traps. I hope that I can use my new training to go trapping with my cousin.”

The trapping course fit nicely with the school’s land-based delivery program, offered by the school board.

Rarely stepping outside of the community

Growing up with family members who trapped, Dannenmann herself became a trapping expert who shares her skills with numerous Indigenous communities in the province.

Although many communities are surrounded by land and water, Dannenmann said some Indigenous people rarely go hunting or fishing — a big change from the way things once were.

“When I first came back in the late ’80s, people were still going in the bush, like whole families, and stay out there for one or two months,” said Dannenmann.

These days, people go out for one day to check their traps.

Kaaren Dannenmann

Kaaren Dannenmann has been a trapping instructor for the past two decades in northern Ontario. (Supplied photo)

Learning your culture, learning how to trap

Howard Moose, an Ontario Works administrator who organized the course for his clients, said the training has been invaluable.

“It’s a way to get back to their way of life, even the youth,” said Moose.

In Dannenmann’s course, she integrates Indigenous perspective and knowledge, such as Indigenous people’s relationship to the land and animals, including their rights to the land.

She also shares the best time to trap certain animals to ensure their natural breeding habits are not interrupted.

When asked whether she will continue to use the skills learned from the trapping course, Campbell — one of the youngest certified trapping students in Poplar Hill — said yes.