Director’s Update – April 23, 2020

Dear Wabun Family,

I have long believed that the Wabun program, providing young people the opportunity to travel through the remote, rugged, and stunningly beautiful territory of Northern Canada, has been the most profound and impactful creation I have ever had a hand in shaping. Over the past week, through conversations with campers and parents, staff and alumni, through acts of compassion, connection, and courage you have shared with me, with one another, and with the global community, and through the honest, heart-felt, and wise guidance of friends and leaders in the Timiskaming, Temagami, and Temagami First Nation communities, I have come to realize that I was wrong. The Wabun program is not the most profound and impactful creation I have ever had a hand in shaping. The Wabun Family is.

This realization left me feeling moved, humble, and possessed of newly focused point of purpose; honoring, loving, and honestly serving the Wabun Family. This clarity provided me and the leadership team the confidence we needed to do the next right thing. This week Wabun’s leadership made the heart-wrenchingly difficult decision not to open for the 2020 season. We want you to know that, given the exceptional number of campers enrolled for the coming summer, the value you place on Wabun’s immersive wilderness experience is evident and so greatly appreciated. We want you to know this decision is the result of months of cohort collaboration, weeks of expert consultation, hours of pointed conversation, and many moments of tearful commiseration. While we feel grounded in the knowledge that our decision is the right one, we are deeply grieving the loss of our time together this summer.

Toward that end I seek to be transparent in describing our process. Please be sure you – campers, staff, families, and friends- know the decision not to open the 2020 Wabun season was not made lightly. Our reasons are rooted in responsibility and nurtured by nature. At Wabun we strive to listen to the language of water and wind and learn from what the wilderness whispers. Right now she is not whispering, she is stating as loudly and clearly as anything I have ever heard, that it is time to be still. It is time to hold close, to keep the oldest, youngest, and those most vulnerable among us sheltered and safe, to practice patience, and to wait it out. The virulence of this virus and the remoteness of Wabun’s location combine to create a situation in which our ability to safeguard the health and well-being of our campers and staff would be compromised. Beyond our campership, we could – despite best-effort adherence to any proposed protocol- potentially introduce infection and bring harm to other members of our Wabun Family, the Teme-Augama Anishnabai, Omushkego Cree, and other First Nation Communities, the Temagami Lake and Town communities, our suppliers and delivery people, our friends and neighbors. This could cause further strain on already stretched medical and first-response resources. We cannot, in good conscience, offer a full or abbreviated program; the potential for harm is too great.

Though the safety of our extended Wabun Family was paramount in our decision, logistical challenges also played a role. Last week the stay- at-home order for Ontario was extended through May, camps were contacted by the Timiskaming Health Unit and directed to remain closed until further notice, camping on Crown Lands (provincial and federal) remains banned as are open fires, closed land borders, and the international travel ban remains in effect until July 1st with the possibility of extension. Changes in the pattern of the virus’ spread will result in tightening or loosening of the above restrictions. We can speculate, and are most certainly hopeful, that come July, travel to and business operation in Northern Ontario will be free, clear, and full steam ahead – but we cannot bank on that possibility nor does it mitigate the safety concerns underlying our decision not to open this summer.

In the Temagami region, on N’Daki Mennan, centuries-old travel routes, referred to as the Nastawgan are the basis of the canoe routes and portage trails we travel. We at Wabun are the grateful students of paddling, portaging, and traveling techniques and ethics that originated and are honed by the Teme-Augama Anishnabai. Wabun has sought to cultivate in our campers a reverence for canoe culture and deep appreciation of the individuals (past, present, and future) who steward it, the lands, and the waters we are so grateful to travel. Now is the time for us to recognize that at this moment, reverence looks like restraint, and stewardship looks like social distancing.

We know that most of all it is you, our campers, who are yearning for the space, solace, and solidarity that surround us on trip. In the end it comes down to listening to and honoring the voice deep inside us, that quiet wisdom accumulated by countless generations of humans who have lived in harmonious relationship with wild places, distilled down, concentrated, and gifted to us as instinct. You have heard that voice. You hear it now. What it is saying is difficult and sad. Please know that we, the whole Wabun family, recognize and empathize with the disappointment and hurt you feel – we are here for you. Right now I am reaching out to you with my warmest, wildest, and most loving, hug. I miss you. And I am so proud of you. You are the heart of Wabun and you beat with strength, such courage, and such kindness. Thank you for being you.

We will be in touch again soon with logistical information and next steps. Please know you are always welcome to reach out to me. Email is fine, texting is good, and calling is even better. I love hearing from you. 573-355-3720. Please take good care.


Jess Lewis

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