It's Time to Go Back - The Story of Eric Mentuck

By Elyce Pereira

As a husband and father of 5, Eric Mentuck has always been an active guy, seeking out different opportunities for his kids and the youth in the community. Eric began playing sports in Waywayseecappo on his high school hockey team, as that was the only sport to compete in at the time. Some of Eric's favourite memories are when they would travel to different communities, usually in Southern Manitoba, to play hockey against other schools. As a dad, Eric has brought this love of sport and recreation into his children. All of his children participate in different sports and recreational activities in their communities, further setting an example for the people around them to live an active and healthy life.

Eric started his community outdoor education program in 2019, when he noticed that there was a lot of bullying going on in the school, specifically in the grade 8 class. At the beginning of their outdoor education program, Eric and the other participants faced a few obstacles while trying to get it up and running. Starting any program can be a challenge, but Eric was determined to get the students back onto the land and back to the old ways. There was a lot of hesitation from school administration, as they were worried about the safety of the students, and even a little bit of hesitation from the students themselves. The program started with supplying the students with fat bikes (bikes with wide tires that can get through snow and other terrain), which really helped all of the kids to open up to the program. It was a good way for them to get outside, and even helped a few kids learn how to ride bikes for the first time!

Once the program was implemented and progressing, the bullying essentially stopped within the school. As word got around, students from all grades began asking if they too could start an outdoor education program. In the future, Eric would love for this program to be a province-wide, and eventually a country-wide opportunity for youth. The more students get involved with nature and land-based education, the better!

This program is unlike any of the classes that the children and youth have experienced in school, so it was a completely new experience for them to be on the land learning instead of in a classroom. Eric greatly believes that if communities are able to get their youth back onto the land, that they will have greater connections, and eventually get back to the connectedness that they felt before residential schools were implemented. This program can help bring the families back to this nature-dependent way of living and will help them with more than just their physical and mental health.

Eric knows how difficult it can be to bring up a new idea to schools and parents, especially something as different as this program. With help from volunteers and parents, and the continued support of organizations like the Manitoba Aboriginal Sports & Recreation Council (MASRC), Eric has accomplished a lot in a short span of time. Despite the ongoing restrictions because of Covid19 and still recovering from a severe injury, Eric was still able to get out on the land and recently took on a project of building outdoor ice rinks in the community so that anyone can get out and skate!

Courtney Engel, Sport for Social Development Program Facilitator for the MASRC, first met Eric Mentuck in the summer of 2020 when he came to pick up equipment from the MASRC Equipment Bank warehouse and some bikes that were donated from the Cycle Indigena Winnipeg program. It was clear to the staff upon meeting Eric that he was a true champion in his community and would be a great leader to partner with and support throughout the years as he grows his program. "Eric is a community leader who is doing good for the community and the youth. He values the sacred traditional teachings and wants it to be passed down. He is an example of someone who gives so much of their time to the community while raising a family. He is creating a better future for his children." says Courtney.

The advice he has for other communities that want to start an outdoor ed program, is to just get started. Work through the challenges, don't think about how expensive everything will be, just get started. In the long run, the expenses and challenges will all be worth it. Getting our kids back onto the land is a vital aspect of decolonization.

Eric Mentuck's story demonstrates generosity, strength and community service through a passion for healing Indigenous people of all ages through land-based education. through a passion for healing Indigenous people of all ages through land-based education. His desire to return to the old ways and to go back to how his ancestors lived prior to the beginning of residential schools inspires his journey.

If you are interested in learning more about how to incorporate land-based education, want to connect with other like-minded people in the Province, and/or starting an outdoor education program in your community?

Join the discussion on December 3rd at 7PM for the MASRC's Virtual Sharing Circle hosted via ZOOM. Click here to register.

For more TRC87 stories like this one, please click on the links below:

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NAIG: A Coach's Ultimate Starting Point - The Story of Mike Taylor

Agoojin: She Hangs in the Sky - The Story of Jayme Menzies

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Fight Through the Fire - The Story of Noel Harding & the Brandon Boxing Club

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