In 2019, RWA started a new initiative to address the specific employment challenges faced by youth in First Nation and/or BIPOC communities across the country. RWA collaborated with ten community-based partners in British Columbia, Ontario, Nunavut, and Saskatchewan that were community-led and contributed to building greater community capacity while promoting a diverse and inclusive workforce. RWA aims to continue these innovative projects into March 2027, below is a guest contribution from Delaney King, community project lead for One Arrow First Nation and Beardy’s and Okemasis Cree Nation.
Guest Contributor: Delaney King
The Youth of One Arrow First Nation, and Beardy’s and Okemasis Cree Nation have experienced new opportunities for growth. Building off the success of the 2022 Youth Employment Project, the youth were able to take root in more land-based education programming. This partnership between RWA and these two Cree Nations allowed them to grow their community understanding and core beliefs around Neurodiversity with leadership from Voyageur Communications and Preventative Measures as project partners.
It was decided by elders, knowledge keepers, and community members to have participants engage in land-based learning. Land-based education has been the core element of Indigenous learning, knowledge creation, and knowledge transmission. This re-connection to the land for neurodiverse individuals has allowed them to know and understand knowledge systems, improving their mental health, and disconnect from a world where they may struggle.
The benefits of land-based programming have been documented. They include enhanced resiliency, sense of connection to culture, strengthened relationships to the land, improved physical and mental health outcomes, improved educational outcomes, improved food security, and positive environmental outcomes. Many of the participants reported struggling with positive mental well-being and feeling disconnected from their community.
In Beardy’s & Okemasis Cree Nation, the program focused on creating an edible forest, planting healing plants and sweetgrass, and growing a community garden. They also wanted to develop a composting program that would divert food from the landfills and return it to the land.
In One Arrow Cree Nation, the students started a recycling program by upcycling old lumber to create planter boxes for elders who can no longer garden, creating their own composting program, and an edible garden outside the school. The topic of food insecurity is a pressing and urgent issue for many of our students who live in food deserts on reserves. A study conducted in Fort Resolution and Fort Providence found that “land-based wild food programs are useful and effective in contributing to long-term food security for Indigenous communities in the context of changing environmental conditions.”
This year, the youth were in the driver’s seat of their future. The program supports have allowed students, from both communities, to also start a small market garden sales program within their own communities. These programs continue to grow a path of reclamation and reconnection to the land and help to re-establish a type of stability for neurodiverse Indigenous individuals.
These programs continue to grow and shape participants and their communities. Besides entrepreneurship, this program also focuses on healing, leadership, and land stewardship, which are all highly sought skills by our participants. Typically, communities struggle to deliver land-based education programs due to budget restrictions, however, with the support from the youth employment project, both programs have a 95% plus graduation rate that has allowed students to learn about business, nutrition, and traditional knowledge in their community. RWA’s youth employment initiative has provided the seeds of success for these programs as they continue to grow and build community support and confidence in themselves.
“Most, if not all, land-based programs are designed to result in multiple interrelated outcomes and benefits for human mental, emotional, and physical health; environmental stewardship; cultural confidence and Indigenous knowledge; technical and practical skills; and enhanced understanding of and proficiency with critical concepts like settler-colonialism, governance, and Indigenous self-determination. “