Deanna, Aaron and Akeme at field trip to CCTV in Boston. Photo by Dyanne London, EFC board member

Deanna Marie Mousseau, member of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, was an Encamper in 2015. She participated a second year in 2016 and became an intern in 2017. She is currently in her second year of college.

How has the Encampment influenced your life?

The Encampment has changed me entirely — I realized that I don’t have to give into the pressures to fail that I feel from society. I may have to try harder, but now I know that I have power within myself to create change. The EFC has shown me this and influenced me in my career path. I have been a part of the community for three years and I have been introduced to a huge network of remarkable people. Even outside the program, the Encampment offered me support that has contributed to my success today. The Encampment has opened many doors, allowing me to have more opportunities. I am also blessed with lifelong friendships with a lot of beautiful people.

What did you learn at the Encampment?

What I learned through the Encampment is that we have tools within ourselves that help us achieve our goals. Some of these tools are our voices, our strength in numbers, and the power of knowledge. We looked at how people did this throughout history, learning about what worked in their organizing efforts. We learned that we could practice different types of social justice work by getting involved in communities.

I also learned more about myself, and the direction where I wanted my life to go changed. My ambitions got bigger and I really started to realize what I am capable of. A big thing I learned was how to be a truth seeker. My summers spent with the Encampment were always ones of correcting false history or assumptions, to gain a better understanding of the social sphere I live in today.

Before I came to the Encampment, I was very unaware of my own environment, and I didn’t think about communities outside my own. I have always been open-minded, which is a great perspective to have when participating in the program. It allows you to really grasp the different cultures you get exposed to while with the group. It is such a diverse group, with so many stories to tell. This atmosphere of acceptance you get while at the Encampment, in a sense, proves to the world that we as human beings are capable of thriving under the same roof.

As an intern, I loved watching the youth and seeing the changes they made from their arrival to when they returned home.

When you arrived, what was your first impression of the Encampment?

In my head, I was like, “This is no typical summer camp!” I was expecting cliché campfire songs, beach volleyball, and arts and crafts. Right away, I was thinking, “Thank you mom, for sending me to this summer camp because it was not what I thought it was going to be.” I knew we would focus on national issues and I was expecting a huge learning opportunity, but I didn’t expect to experience as much growth as I did. When I came to the Encampment, I was told the history of it, the purpose, and the agenda. I was very excited because I met other youth I could relate with and the staff made me feel very welcomed.

What topic did you spend the most time on at the Encampment and what did you learn?

My first summer, we spent a big portion focusing on the Civil Rights Movement. We were in the heart of the South and we got an intense experience learning about the movement. We learned about the racial tensions that had deep roots in the south and how the history impacts modern times. We also learned how to organize and what we could do ourselves to create change.

Another big topic was immigration. We had youth who had first-hand experience, and that offered a lot of perspectives to the group. I remember many good discussions and presentations on immigration. We could learn about these things in creative ways that made it fun to be involved. The Encampment is great at teaching youth how to use resources for their own projects. We learned skills to get people engaged and we looked at what people did in the past that helped create the biggest change.

How did the Encampers get along? How did this change over the time you were together?

I think at the beginning, we were all kind of easing into getting to know each other. Once we all realized how much we had in common, and how we could relate on the problems we faced, we were able to connect. One thing I loved is that the Encampment offers such an accepting feeling and we could share bonds that we couldn’t get anywhere else. Suddenly, our race, ethnicity, and gender, etc., did not matter; only who we were and how we wanted to make the world better mattered, so we were all able to function as a community.

How did Encamper self-government work for your Encampment?

The best version of self-government I have seen was the summer of 2017. It was hard to get the group to agree on an absolute form of government, but the Encampers could come up with basic positions to offer the group some boundaries. They made community agreements and voted on people to be elected officials. It seemed to have worked out just fine, and the youth took the positions seriously.

What field trips do you remember?

The most memorable trip I remember taking was during the 2015 Encampment, when we went to Selma, Alabama. We dove into the history of Bloody Sunday and racial inequalities. We got to see some phenomenal museums, including an interactive one where we experienced a slave trade simulation. It was so incredible to experience that because we have been learning about the Civil Rights Movement, and that fieldtrip made what we were studying a reality.

Going to Immigration Court and sitting in on court hearings was another huge insight. The Encampment takes us places where history is learned hands-on, and we can see injustices upfront, so we can decide what actions are needed to improve the situation.

We took trips to Black Lives Matter events, all types of museums, many trips to local businesses that served the community, and places of scenic beauty — a variety of trips that made the group bond stronger and where we also got to see the depth of issues this country faces.

 What community service projects do you remember?

We did things like participate in helping other communities with events. One time, we went to the Choctaw Reservation and helped with their annual powwow. We became part of their community and they became part of our Encampment community. We also did service learning at different locations, getting involved in the local communities.

What were some of your favorite leisure time activities?

I loved to swim during our down time. We would do trips to the beach and check out hiking trails. Often, we all sat around and talked about different debates.

What is your favorite memory or story from the Encampment?

In the summer of 2016, at the beginning of the program, we were all still getting used to each other. We climbed Mt. Monadnock on a rainy day. It turned out to be more strenuous than anticipated and it seemed to never end. As a group, we helped each other, and it brought our group closer. It gave us some good laughs and it was a great way to start off the summer.

Why is the EFC important now?

The Encampment is important because there is a critical need for people to take action. As the world faces difficulties, we are going to need leaders. The EFC brings youth forward who are willing to engage in their communities and are interested in activism and organizing. It is what we all shared in common — our passions for changing the world and leaving it better than we found it. It offers skills and knowledge that will help youth make their mark on society.