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First Nations Youth Immersed in Traditional Lands


"It's Changed Everything"

Meet young First Nations students immersed in the wilds of the Great Bear Rainforest.

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“[The internship] gives me a reminder on who I am, why I’m here, and who I want to be.”

-Dennine Reid, SEAS Summer Intern

“This is amazing!”

Louis Shaw can’t stop saying it—over and over again.

A member of the Heiltsuk First Nation and a recent high school graduate, Louis joined three peers this summer for an internship immersed in the wilds of their traditional lands in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest.

The Nature Conservancy has teamed up with Canada’s QQS Projects Society, a Heilsuk nonprofit organization, for the second year providing youth with this opportunity to gain hands-on experience in ecology and natural resource management.

For eight-weeks, the interns performed deer pellet surveys, set up motion-sensor cameras to track wolf and deer populations, counted sea lions and killer whales, and took muscle samples from rockfish.

Reclaiming Tradition

“We started to lose the connectivity and intimacy we had with our lands,” explains William Housty, a Heiltsuk leader and the QQS Project Society’s Coastwatch Director. “But we’re starting to reconnect with our place.”

For this summer’s interns, the program gives them an opportunity to immerse themselves in their traditional lands, a place their ancestors once hunted for deer, fished for halibut and knew by heart.

The students are establishing personal connections with their traditional lands , while also working alongside natural resource officers to learn how to steward the lands and waters they will one day inherit.

“If we lose this, then there’s really nothing that we have left,” says intern Dennine Reid of the Heiltsuk’s natural areas. “[The internship] gives me a reminder on who I am, why I’m here, and who I want to be.”

Dennine will be starting the 11th grade and plans to go into the Coast Guard. Many of the interns are thinking about their future careers, and the internship is an important first step in helping them determine their ultimate direction.

A Community Effort

The summer internship for First Nations youth is part of a larger effort called SEAS Community Initiative (Supporting Emerging Aboriginal Stewards Community Initiative).

Based in two First Nation communities in British Columbia, the initiative in Bella Bella is a collaboration between the Bella Bella Community School (BBCS), QQS Projects Society, the Conservancy and Pacific Wild.

With a mission to empower the community’s youth to steward their traditional territory, which is one of the last remaining coastal temperate rainforests on earth, SEAS Community Initiative is supporting a new generation of local leaders through education, mentorship and community support.

Opportunities for youth of all ages include:

  • nature-based classroom plans and outdoor activities
  • interactive technology that brings nature to life in the classroom
  • summer field research internship for high school students
  • mentorship program that links youth with local professionals and elders within their community

These tools are making a real difference for First Nations youth—connecting them with the natural world their community has depended on for generations.

“I love this place,” says Louis as he gazes out to where the Great Bear Rainforest meets the ocean. “It’s changed everything.”

You can help support educational opportunities for First Nations youth and make a difference for the future of the Great Bear Rainforest.
 

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