Raw, remote and resource rich, coastal and inland First Nation communities in the north are welcoming home recent graduates from the Stewardship Technicians Training Program.
For the past two years, students have travelled to their Prince Rupert classroom to gain industry-recognized certificates and university credits that can be applied toward a degree or a diploma. The 14 courses in the program deal with environmental monitoring, archeology, resource management and leadership skills.
“I’m taking the course just to prove to my co-workers, my peers, especially our youth back home that you too can be that leader in your nation, to take part in something, you know, to be that steward of the land, and to be proud of who you are and what you do,” said Nicole Morven, who is from Gitwinksihlkw in the Nass River valley.
Morven has been a monitoring coordinator for Nisga’a fisheries for 10 years, as well as wildlife monitoring and data collecting duties on land.
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“All the students work in environmental stewardship, in particular as fisheries techs or land technicians, and coastal guardian watchmen. They’re either working in that capacity or getting into that,” said Elodie Button, training coordinator, who saw 16 students graduate from the first cohort and 11 students from the second cohort that completed in March.
The program is jointly run by Coastal First Nations Great Bear Initiative and Vancouver Island University, and funded by the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. Students were based in Prince Rupert, but did on-the-ground training and education in Haida Gwaii, Hakai Institute on Calvert Island, and they went to Metlakatla for their archaeological course to tour the old village sites.
“In September, we were in Hakai. We were there for two weeks doing some communications prep, preparing to be out in the field professionally. Working out in your own territory but learning how to be respectful while you’re doing it,” Morven said.
Students learn more than how to manage a protected area, identify fish and how to service a small motorboat, they were also mentored on improving their communication skills, how to work with a team, handle conflict resolution and speak in public.
“I’m definitely more confident then I was before. I’m speaking up about my ideas and things that are going on in my head and so I would like to use some of the skills and take them back to my community and maybe start different survey work,” said Deborah Parker, from Kitsumkalum.
The program has lit a fire for her, and she imagines using her new-found skills to do traditional-use studies on Indigenous plants, and how to maintain them.
“I would like to go and find the stories about how maybe our elders learned to maintain our berry picking areas or where some of the ladies may go and harvest the bark off the cedar tree,” she said.
The third cohort ends with 15 students graduating from a one-year adapted version of the course.
After three years of coordinating the program, Button has seen the students grow in their career and personal development, which has encouraged her to search for grant money to allow the stewardship training to continue.