Kierstyn Hillsdon and her husband, Zach, always wanted to become foster parents after growing up around a foster family and seeing how much of a positive impact the foster parent made in each child’s life. In November 2021, that dream became a reality as they welcomed their first foster placement. Now, they are focused on providing a safe, comfortable and nurturing place to call home for the child in their care, which includes connecting them with their Indigenous culture.
Starting their foster care journey, the Hillsdons began researching and reaching out to answer general questions but they knew there was still so much to learn. Then, in early summer 2022, they received an invitation to attend an annual four-day cultural camp for foster families and the children in their care. The camp is a partnership between the ministries of Social Services and Parks, Culture and Sport with Prairie Spirit Connections. “We were very excited,” said Kierstyn. “This was not only going to be a great way for us to learn, but for the child in our care to learn about their Indigenous culture as well. Our biggest hope was to be able to bring what we learned back into our home to help keep us and the children connected with their culture and identity.”
At the camp, Elders and facilitators provide a general introduction to some of the traditions, ceremony and teachings of First Nations cultures. Foster parents and children are provided with traditional ribbon skirts or shirts and are able to sleep in one of 10 tipis. Participants engage in several activities including raising a tipi and the associated teachings, archery, drumming, preparing a hide, meat drying, sweat lodge ceremony, arts and crafts, and a round dance. Other activities may include swimming, fishing or just enjoying the Learning Playground or the Spirit Walk commemorative project that was dedicated through the Canada 150 project in 2017.
The following is a short Q&A with Kierstyn about her family’s first experience at Prairie Spirit Connections’ culture camp.
Can you tell us about your experiences at the camp?
We gained a lot of knowledge from the camp and hope we get the chance to go annually. Zach was grateful to be invited to participate in the sweat. As a spectator of the ceremony, I was surprised at how peaceful and spiritual it was to be engulfed in the silence while listening to the echo of drums. We were also able to set up a tipi while learning what each pole represents and were graciously welcomed to participate in a Powwow, at which time we learned our little guy has a love for the dance. It was a beautiful experience to watch him come out of his shell and dance along with the others.
Did the child placed in your care participate in a naming ceremony?
Yes, he did participate in the naming ceremony. Going into it we did not know what to expect but it turned out to be a very emotional and spiritual experience, bringing us so much closer to his culture.
How has the camp assisted you in connecting the child to their cultural identity?
The camp has really taught us how much love and pride the Indigenous community has for their culture. It has helped our little guy by helping us understand the culture and important traditions. From their teachings, we learned to use the earth for what we need; incorporate smudging and prayers into our daily routines and has also led us to celebrate his spiritual name with a traditional feast. The camp has helped us by furthering our knowledge so that we can help him through his journey and give him a strong sense of identity.
Would you recommend the camp to other foster parents?
We would absolutely recommend the camp to our fellow foster parents as it was such a great experience all around. We feel that everyone could learn a little about themselves and the culture. The staff and team at Prairie Spirit were amazing and really made us feel welcome and at home. It was also a great way for us, being new to this whole experience, to be able to connect with fellow foster parents.
Prairie Spirit Connections held its inaugural culture camp for foster families in 2014. This inclusive camp helps to meet the need for cultural connections for both our foster parents and the children placed in their care. October is Foster Families Month. If you’re interested in becoming a foster family, visit the Saskatchewan Foster Families Association website.