For 14 First Nations students, March 15, 2017, was a special day as they celebrated their graduation from the two-year Stewardship Technicians Training Program. Certificates were awarded, a special dinner was served and proud family and community members were on hand to congratulate the successful students. Ranging in age and experience, the students are all from First Nations communities along B.C.'s Central and North Coast and Haida Gwaii.
“Indigenous people have been stewarding these lands and waters since time immemorial,” says Elodie Button, training co-ordinator for the Coastal Stewardship Network. “This training program is grounded in critical Indigenous knowledge that has been passed from generation to generation and combines it with technical skills and techniques to enhance stewardship on the coast.”
The unique training program is offered by Coastal First Nations, in partnership with Vancouver Island University. It provides practical skills and hands-on training in resource stewardship and enables participants to acquire the applied skills and knowledge needed to work for their Nations in the growing field of resource management.
Through the program, students acquire the skills needed to become stewardship professionals and the many potential employment opportunities resulting from this training include Coastal Guardian Watchman, fisheries technician, heritage surveyor, and environmental monitor.
During the past two years, the students have received industry-recognized training and certifications in areas such as environmental monitoring of fish and fish habitat, water, lands and construction sites and conducting inventories of archeological features. They have also gained knowledge and experience in compliance, protected area management and small marine motor servicing.
“Bringing together people from nine different Nations to learn and grow over two years provides deep opportunities for inter-cultural learning, leadership development and personal empowerment,” says Button. “Students share their knowledge and develop their skills as emerging leaders. It’s not just about individual learning, it’s shared throughout the communities.”
As the stewards of their ancestral lands and waters, they will be working to help address threats such as poaching, illegal fishing and hunting practices, high-impact tourism and over-harvesting. During their studies, they’ve had extensive field-based training in research and monitoring. This has included courses in areas such as electro-fishing, mapping, navigation, safety and how to engage with the public on compliance with rules and regulations. The courses were delivered in various locations along the coast, including Prince Rupert and both Skidegate and Masset on Haida Gwaii.
Participant Josh Vickers, from the Heiltsuk First Nation, describes the program, “It’s about reconnecting with the coast through science and culture. We talk about connections to each other and we talk about relearning our cultures and languages, fully and truly as humble people like our ancestors.”
The B.C. government supports delivery of the Stewardship Technician Training Program through a $1.6-million investment from the Aboriginal Skills Training Development Fund.