In the fall of 2008, the School of Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism embarked on a service-learning project with the Office of Aboriginal Initiatives. Specifically, two classes (OUTD 3410 Heritage Interpretation and OUTD 4411 Advanced Heritage Interpretation) offered to help plan and design an interpretive sign for the Sweat Lodge site located at Lakehead University (Thunder Bay). The purpose of the sign was to contribute toward improved recognition and protection of the Sweat Lodge Ceremonial area. Drawing upon the philosophy of experiential education, the project aimed to integrate the theory and practice of heritage interpretation with a meaningful service benefiting the many individuals and organizations that participate in events held at the Ceremonial Lodge Site.
Interpretation is a specialized communication process designed to reveal meanings of and relationships with our cultural and natural heritage, through first-hand experiences. Using various media (such as signs, guided tours, demonstrations, living history and exhibits) interpretation seeks to enhance understanding, appreciation, and therefore, protection of historic sites, natural phenomena, and cultural places.
Under the guidance of Ernie Kwandibens, (Elder and Ceremonial Lodge Keeper) and the broader Elders Council, the students learned about Aboriginal culture and ways to respectfully communicate teachings through heritage interpretation. The class also benefited from advice provided by Luc Simard, owner of the sign company Scenario 3. The term project for the introductory course (OUTD 3410) was to create conceptual interpretive sign designs. Five design concepts were shared with the Elders Council. The Advanced Heritage Interpretation class was then responsible for applying the Elders' recommendations to create the final conceptual design combining many elements from the original sign ideas. The class also researched construction processes, materials, and installation factors. The final design was presented to and approved by the Ceremonial Lodge Keeper, Elders Council, Office of Communications, and the Administrative Executive Committee.
The sign panel and directional markers are made of a weather-resistant material called iZone high pressure laminate. The wooden post (donated by the Lakehead University's Wood Science Testing Laboratory) is Eastern White Cedar. The custom-designed hardware was made and donated by Lakehead University's Science Workshop. The sign was installed by Thunder Bay Signs and Install Inc. As the acknowledgement list indicates, many individuals assisted with making this project a success.
Overall, the students gained valuable knowledge through the opportunity to apply interpretive planning theory to a real scenario. The experience and completed project contributes to their portfolio and may help students secure future employment in the field. Visitors to the Ceremonial Lodge site hopefully will benefit through increased awareness of the area's purpose and the invitation to learn more about the rich Aboriginal heritage of this region.
Lesley Curthoys, Ph.D.
Certified Interpretive Trainer & Planner
School of Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism