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Education program to empower Indigenous youth

Goal is to raise new generation of environmentalists with ancestral ties to the land
Lyric John-Cliffe and Cory Cliffe sing a traditional Laichkwiltach canoe song by the Campbell River Estuary. Photo by Binny Paul/Campbell River Mirror

A new program seeks to build the next generation of environmental stewards while avoiding mistakes made in the past.

Cory Cliffe had the idea for the 7 Generations Steward Society after seeing gaps in current environmental stewardship programs.

“I came up through the Coastal Guardian Watchmen Program and saw that there were a lot of gaps in the education system transitioning to the industry,” he said. “This program is designed to facilitate that.”

The idea is to connect with First Nations youth when they start Grade 9, and stay with them through the end of university into the job market. That will give them the tools to have a meaningful place at the table and speak to big environmental decisions.

“The idea behind this is to create not just a family, but a network of people who are all passionate about the same thing who are from different territories,” he said. “The sooner we get this education, the sooner we can sit at those tables and go ‘No your data is not correct and it’s not in the best interest of our people to do this.’”

Cliffe said that he learned how gaps in education can have the effect of leaving people behind who have good ideas, but lack the credentials necessary to be taken seriously. That is why he wants to connect with students when they are starting high school, to give them cultural and personal support while fostering a sense of environmental stewardship along the way.

“I realized that in order for me to accomplish what I want to accomplish in life, I had to go back and upgrade, I thought back to having to take those classes, there are the alternate courses that at the time sound easier, but you end up paying for it big time,” he said. “What I wanted to accomplish in this program is really to instill that ancestral responsibility that our people have to the land and sea and use that as a way to distract the kids from their screen time, party time and drugs and alcohol.”

“The idea is to get the kids away from what has stopped us in the past,” he added.

The goal, however, is more than just empowering youth. It is also to start “healing the coast.”

“The times of profit-driven environmentalism are gone,” he said. “This can’t be something that’s commercially driven or profit driven, this needs to come from people whose hearts and truly invested in our ancestral territory… We need those industry professionals who have that ancestral tie to the land because it’s no longer just a paycheque for them. It’s now walking in the foot steps of the ancestors and we need to carry ourselves accordingly.”

“When we can accomplish that, that’s when this coast is going to see regeneration in leaps and bounds,” he added.

Cliffe plans to have the program up and running for the beginning of the school year, however, he is looking to spread the word and find partners in the community to provide support.

“If there’s organizations in the Campbell River area, if we haven’t contacted them please reach out to us,” Cliffe said. “We would love to talk. We need safety equipment, we need field equipment, and most importantly we need funding to get everything off the ground.”

RELATED: Passing the baton of environmental stewardship to seven generations on a Vancouver Island estuary

Campbell River Stewardship Awards presented at a distance this year

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