Monday, April 22, 2013

Cree Nation Youth Council - Best Practices Mission

I recently returned from a week-long journey through Alberta and B.C. with four representatives from the Cree Nation Youth Council (CNYC). We were on a Best Practices Mission, with the main objective of learning from experienced outdoor education and cultural organizations. The CNYC has been working on developing a 'Cree Wilderness Training Centre' over the past few years and it is the hope of the Youth Grand Chief, Joshua Iserhoff, that this mission would help to inspire and motivate the CNYC to make this project a reality.

This mission was one of the most intense itineraries I've put together yet. Many people think that a Best Practices Mission is a holiday - all fun and excitement. They are definitely lots of fun and very exciting, but they are also long and busy days, with little downtime, not a holiday at all. In just 5 days, the participants traveled from various communities in the James Bay region in Northern Quebec to fly to Calgary, then drove to Canmore, Jasper and Edmonton, to fly to Vancouver, then drive to Squamish and then finally fly back home. There was a mix of driving and flying and we got to see some of Canada's most iconic regions.

We visited a range of organizations, each chosen for different reasons:

  • Ghost River Rediscovery Society
  • Outward Bound and the Sage Program
  • Palisades Stewardship Education Centre
  • Dechinta
  • North Vancouver Outdoor School
  • Punky Lake Wilderness Camp

We met with the management staff of each organization to learn about:
  • Challenges overcome
  • Lessons learned
  • Strategies implemented to stay sustainable
  • Innovative partnerships
  • Funding opportunities capitalized on
  • Unique programming ideas

Each organization far exceeded our expectations in their hospitality, in their experiences they shared with us and the knowledge they imparted on us. The four participants, Cassandra, Jamie, Abel and Stella far exceeded my expectations in their stamina on such a crazy trip, in their questions they asked, in their professionalism and in their experiences they shared with our hosts and myself. I'm always amazed when I go on a trip with the Eeyou Istchee Cree how strong their ties still are to their culture and how much they have and want to share with other Aboriginal communities. We were on a mission to learn, but I feel that the people we met with, including myself, learned from them as well. It makes me feel incredibly proud and grateful that I had the opportunity to plan, coordinate and facilitate this mission with this group. 

There is still a long road ahead for the CNYC in the development of the CWTC, but I truly believe with champions like Cassandra, Jamie, Abel and Stella and a young and motivated leader like Joshua, this project can become a reality in the very near future.