Skip to content

Biracial families find more kin at Camp Mehaber

While the camp was started by families who adopted transracially, it is open to families who face similar issues and challenges.

This August long weekend, Dorraine, Doug and Jaycee Gustafson met up with family at Whatshan Lake as they have been doing for the past four years. This relatively new family is one they have become attached to through spending time together at Camp Harambee, a camp for multi racial families in Naramata.

Camp Mehaber, which takes place at Whatshan, comes from an Amharic word meaning “gathering of family and friends” and has been running for four years. The camp is an offshoot of the original long-running Camp Harambee based in the Okanagan. A bunch of Kootenay families started Camp Mehaber in Nelson but moved it to Whatshan after the first year. The camp, more a family event than your typical summer camp, is laid back in the Kootenay way, said Dorraine.

“It’s basically a camping trip,” she told the Arrow Lakes News, one with a very relaxed atmosphere.

The camp began with 11 families taking part, but each year the numbers grow, and this year there were 19 families coming together to have talk, have fun and enjoy their time. When the Gustafsons started going seven years ago, they noticed the difference it made right away.

“Just the support and love you feel for each other is great,” said Dorraine.

She and her husband Doug learned about the Naramata camp when they were going through the adoption process.

The couple adopted Jaycee in Chicago, where mothers have three days after giving birth to sign over their parental rights. The time given to mothers who have said they want their baby to be adopted varies widely from days to years, Dorraine told the Arrow Lakes News, depending on where the adoption takes place.

“When we adopted, we thought were were just adopting Jaycee,” she said, “but now with this camp we’ve adopted all these families.”

The support the Gustafsons have received isn’t just about being a biracial family, it’s about learning parenting skills, some of which are specific to situations that can arise for these families.

“You know they’re going to understand,” Dorraine said, who treasures the opportunity to listen and learn from the experience of others.

The Gustafsons rarely have to deal with challenges that some of the families that come to camp from cities do, particularly dealing with some of the “dumb questions” people occasionally ask.

“Nakusp has been great,” said Dorraine. “Everyone just knows.”

For her part, Jaycee likes getting to see her friends at the camp every summer. Last year, she and some friends organized a talent show “just for fun.” Jaycee, a dancer, performed choreography that she and her friend had created. This year, the adults joined in too, some of them trying out krumping, with hilarious results.

While the camp was started by families who adopted transracially, it is open to biracial families, said Dorraine, who noted that they face similar issues and challenges. Going to the camp has been another great choice, as was the decision to adopt.

“It is the best decision we made as  a family and we are so grateful to her birth mom for making the hardest and most loving decision of her life and letting us parent Jaycee,” said Dorraine.

Anyone who may be interested in learning more about Camp Mehaber is welcome to call Dorraine Gustafson for more information.