A Life-Changing Experience for First Nation Youth

May 12, 2015 8:00 AM ET

Originally published on TransCanada's blog

Eighteen year old Michael Lewis wasn’t sure what to expect when he signed on to Geoterra’s month-long cultural and forestry skills program in central B.C.

“Coming out here, I was pretty stressed with my own relationship problems,” he said while sitting quietly by Tezzeron Lake, north of Fort St. James B.C. “But when I started talking with the Elders and the people around me, it gave me huge insight into self-respect, and finding what’s good about myself, and not to worry about what’s going on around me.”

Michael, from the Gitxaala First Nation, was one of more than 60 Aboriginal youth, Elders, cultural leaders and mentors from 18 First Nations communities who took part in the program sponsored by Prince Rupert Gas Transmission. Contractor Geoterra Integrated Resource Systems created the annual program, which is supported by community cultural leaders and Elders.

The program is held in conjunction with Geoterra’s Forestry Field Assessment program. Participants, who have received the appropriate safety certifications, spend half of their time working alongside Geoterra personnel to learn basic forestry skills such as map and compass, GPS, field data collection and an introduction to forestry and pipelines. The other half of the program is spent with Elders, learning cultural teaching and traditions such as participation in storytelling, language, medicine picking and preparation, hide tanning, trapping, fishing, drumming and singing. There is also daily circle teaching in healthy life skills development such as the effects of drugs and alcohol, self-responsibility and inter-personal communication.

Pascale Mera, an Aboriginal Relations lead with TransCanada believes the camp offers a unique perspective for youth. “What I found to be unique in this particular camp was the combining of the traditional and cultural learnings with the technical learnings and I think that’s something that TransCanada can be proud to have been involved with. From past experience I know that local economies are important but there is also the need to maintain culture and traditions, so it’s great if we can have a little part in helping to promote that.”

Dan Nicholson, operations manager at Geoterra, who began developing the program with TransCanada in 2008, says that while job skills and cultural training are important, the real benefits appear when the youth realize how important they are. “We try to reach their hearts, to show them the amazing opportunities they have at their age. There is a transformation that occurs within the youth and the Elders during these programs, even over a short period of time,” said Dan. “In their own words, the Elders benefit just as much as the youth and to me that inner transformation to all participants makes the whole program worthwhile.”

In addition to the technical and cultural training, the half a million dollar program hired the youth, Elders and Cultural Leaders as employees and sub-contractors throughout the duration of the program. Both Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project and North Montney Mainline Project are the two major TransCanada sponsors of the program, with smaller contributions to support the program coming from friends of the program. The program covered a wide geographical area including the three main areas of Tezzaron Lake (central B.C.), West Moberly Lake (northeast B.C.) and Kitwanga (western B.C.). Participants came from various First Nations along the pipeline routes.

Learn more about TransCanada’s commitment to Aboriginal, Native American and Indigenous Peoples.