Stewards for the Land program introduces students to natural resources careers

Students camped for four days and three nights at the Hannin Creek Educational Facility as part of the Stewards for the Land program, an initiative which introduces students to careers in the natural resources sector. They learned skills such as catching and dissecting fish, Fire Smart practices and safe snowmobiling. Submitted photo.

A newly-revived version of a popular training program wrapped up Thursday after helping to teach youth from three First Nations communities about careers and opportunities in the natural resources sector.

The Stewards for the Land was based on the Junior Resource Ranger Program, a project, operated from 2006-2015, used as a tool to recruit young people into the Integrated Resource Management Program at Saskatchewan Polytechnic.

Students between the ages of 16-20 participated in courses allowing them to gain work experience, learn more about the environment, connecting to their culture and becoming certified in various skills.

During the life of that program, over 400 students from 10 communities participated.

However, funding challenges led to obstacles fro some communities who had participated.

The Prince Albert Model Forest (PAMF), which helped with the original program, was approached by some communities to find out when it would return.

“Muskeg came to me and said ‘we really want to run it again,” said Sarah Schmid, PAMF manager.

“We decided to change the name because Stewards for the Land is a big concept within communities, especially for the next generation. We adapted the program and started to include more elders within the program and more cultural teachings. It wasn’t just focused on getting certifications and training, it was also to broaden beyond that and give them a day in the life of a wildlife biologist or wildfire management.”

The program, which ran over several weeks and concluded with a career fair, included traditional ecological knowledge, cultural awareness, forestry, law, fire management, health and environmental sciences. It combined teachings from elders, hands-on experience, training and support from Saskatchewan Polytechnic. It was targeted to students aged 16—25 from Beardy’s and Okemasis Cree Nation, Mistawasis Nehiyawak and Muskeg Lake Cree Nation.

According to Schmid, the youth learned several skills over the course of the program.

“They received their snowmobile training and certification, they learned to net fish under the ice and learned how to age fish, they learned … identification of waterfowl and trapping and snaring (and) they learned how to do riparian assessments, which is really crucial in water security, especially on agricultural land and where their communities are situated,” she said.

The students also learned about various careers in forestry, including GIS and forest technicians, about fire smart and wildfire management and other jobs within the sector.

“They really loved the snowmobiling,” Schmid said.

“They not only got to go on a snowmobile, they got their certification, which is good. I think a lot of them took away that there are so many careers within the natural resource sector.”

Some of the students said they would try tree planting this summer, while others have indicated that they will enrol into the Integrated Resource Management program, which some didn’t even know existed.

Coordinators from some of the communities agreed that the students seemed to take away a lot from the program.

‘I think it’s really good land-based learning. It’s a way to provide them with some really good information,” said Glenna Cayen, the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation coordinator.

“It was a way for them to open up to what’s out there for their future and their careers. They learned some good skills and some things they can put on their resume that will help them for future job interests.”

Reed Nitawokiwinow agreed. He was the coordinator for Beardy’s and Okemasis Cree Nation.

“It opened up a lot of eyes,” he said.

“I have two or three who are going to be enrolling into the (Saskatchewan Polytechnic) program. It showed them that there are jobs out there for everyone.”

The program, though, did more than just teach the students about some potential career paths.

“We had a discussion on the way home from Mistawasis (Thursday) and we kept asking them what they got out of this program,” Nitawokiwinow said. “A lot of them told us they had gotten a lot out of this program — responsibility and respect — it taught the students a lot about themselves and what they have to do as they grow up.”

The program is being offered again in the summer, and Schmid hopes this successful launch will lead to a bigger program the second time around. She’s already had inquiries from additional groups wanting to take part.

Nitawokiwinow and Cayen are all for continuing the Stewards for the Land program.

“They did a lot of networking and received a lot of valuable information,” Cayen said.

“It’s just a really good way for Indigenous kids to get involved, be in a team environment and work together.”

Nitawokiwinow said he’s going to push some students in their late teens to get involved.

“That’s when they’re coming out of high school,” he said.

“It will show them that there are jobs out there. They may be interested in one of the careers through the program. They just have to drive and go after them.”