The AWAKE Cultural Camp Series is a local initiative founded by two Fort McKay residents and business leaders: Mel Grandjamb and Chris Wilson. Recognizing the scarcity of traditional roots, the two developed a plan to bring it back the best way they know: through hands-on training in the wilderness. The primary goal is to preserve traditional hunting, fishing, and trapping ways of life and to keep native culture alive. Tradition remains an important way of life for Mel and Chris, and they look forward to passing along their skills and knowledge to others.
The inspiration behind these camps started more than 20 years ago when Mel was Chief of the Fort McKay First Nation. Born and raised in Fort McKay, he knew his community before the oil sands industry emerged. A time when traditional practices and living off the land was a way of life. As Chief he facilitated his first cultural camp in 1994 to teach youth core hunting and gathering skills, and inspire them to keep their traditions alive. A young boy at the time, Chris was a participant of the camp and remembers those days fondly. He is now a successful entrepreneur but his community, culture, and love for the outdoors remain an important part of his life.
A member of the Fort McKay First Nation and president of Fort McKay Alcor and several other local businesses, Mel is extremely passionate about his community and heritage. Mel was born and raised in Fort McKay and spent his youth learning fishing, hunting, and trapping skills. He spent winters on the trapline with his father, and still maintains an active trapline to this day. He is a key contributor to the annual Treaty Days celebration, an Alberta Native Hockey Provincials coach for various levels, the Fort McKay First Nation Fire Chief, and more. As part of his diversified and well-rounded career, Mel has held positions with Syncrude Canada, Frog Lake First Nation, Fort McKay Group of Companies, and Fort McKay First Nation.
An entrepreneur at heart, Chris had a successful 11-year career with Syncrude Canada before co-founding BME in 2005. The company continually gives back to the community and has one of the industry’s highest Aboriginal employment rates. Further contributing to the long-term growth and sustainability of Fort McKay, Chris owns three other local businesses and has plans to expand. Spending time in nature, hunting and gathering, and sharing with elders has been a way of life for Chris since he was a young boy.