Volunteers gather to build the Batchewana First Nation teaching lodge

A special structure is going up behind the Anishinabek Discovery Centre in Sault Ste. Marie. A group of volunteers gathered over the weekend to build a teaching lodge, which will serve as a centre for traditional learning.

The process of building a teaching lodge begins with site selection and gathering of building materials. In this case, maple saplings are tied together to form the "ribs" of the structure, which will then be covered with a tarp.

Chief Dean Sayers of Batchewana First Nation was on hand for the opening ceremony and to lend a hand in building the lodge. He says it's the historical and traditional equivalent of a present-day school.

"It's a holistic lodge, and you connect in so many ways when you're in this lodge," says Chief Sayers. "Visually, spiritually, emotionally. You'll get a connection that you'll find in no other educational institute."

Chief Sayers says the lodge is constructed using all natural materials, with each piece serving a purpose.

"Every section has teachings, every rib has teachings," he says. "It's our encyclopedia. It's our Google. Everything is right there. You want to know something? Google it right there. You can Google it in the lodge and the ancestors will help us with that."

An activist cycling from Quebec to British Columbia was among those invited to the lodge site. Guillaume McMartin, who not long ago considered ending his life, says he is bringing a message of hope across the country.

"It's finding a purpose and hope, a little piece of hope in my heart, that I could make a difference," says McMartin. "That's the journey I take today. Because if I can save one person's life who's thinking about suicide, who's thinking to give up, if I can help put hope in one person's heart, then this entire journey is worth it."

McMartin says while his journey is taking much longer than he expected, he's grateful for the experience.

"I thought it would take two or three months," he says. "And now, I'm like two months in and I'm still in the middle of Ontario. But, I've met so many amazing people and generous people and people giving from the heart."

Officials say the teaching lodge, which will remain up year-round, is designed to compliment modern-day teaching methods at Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig, the Anishinabek university in the Soo.