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Nature program will put Indigenous youth to work

The initiative connects racialized youth to jobs that promote and protect nature
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Indigenous youth from across Canada are among those being sought for a new collaborative work program made possible through Nature Canada and Parks Canada.

The program, which is titled Work To Grow, works to connect racialized youth to jobs that promote and protect nature.

BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) youth who are ages 15 to 30 may apply.

More than 275 BIPOC youth are expected to benefit from the program.

Leigh-Ann Johnson, Nature Canada’s organizing manager, said about 20 youth are already taking part, which began in late June and continues until next March.

“It’s the first year of the program and I’m very happy with it so far and I’m very happy with the work our team is doing,” Johnson said.

Youth looking for jobs and employers offering positions can register for the Work To Grow program online.

Nature Canada officials are encouraging organizations or groups to offer a wage of $17.50 per hour and to offer full-time spots, up to 35 hours of work per week. Various part-time positions are also available.

The way the program works is that Parks Canada through its wage subsidies program will pay for half of the money youth will be earning from their jobs. The organization or group providing the job will pay the other 50 per cent of the wage.

“So far we’re working with 84 groups,” Johnson said. “We’ve got quite an array. It’s fabulous.”

Organizations from nine provinces – Newfoundland is the lone exception so far – have listed job postings. Positions are also available through groups in the Northwest Territories.

“Right now we’re seeing a big fall push, which is really nice,” Johnson said. “We’re seeing a lot of students looking for some part-time or full-time placement work in relation to their schooling.”

Jobs that are posted through the program must last between eight and 16 weeks.

“We’ve got plenty of time to go with the program,” Johnson said, adding the latest date to apply would be early next February for an eight-week program that would continue until the end of March.

Johnson said the Work To Grow program was spawned last year following recommendations from Nature Canada’s Race and Nature in the City report.

The report had been commissioned in early 2020 to assist Nature Canada to incorporate anti-racism and equity in its programming.

The final report, written by Jacqueline Scott and Ambika Tenneti, included numerous recommendations on how to engage racialized communities in nature and nature-based programs.

“We really want to address the systemic barriers that exist there,” Johnson said.

Though organizations across the country are offering positions through the Work To Grow program, Johnson said in some cases youth accepting jobs would not necessarily have to leave their homes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught the world working remotely is not only possible but can be extremely effective.

“Quite a few of the positions that are being offered are fully remote,” Johnson said. “You can be in B.C. and working for a company in P.E.I.”

Johnson added some of the work being offered can be done on First Nations.

As word of the Work To Grow program spreads, Johnson anticipates more and more organizations and groups to get onboard.

Some of those who have registered include the Xeni Gwet’in First Nations Government in Nemiah Valley, B.C., Toronto’s Project Canoe and the Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation in Mahone Bay, N.S.

The Xeni Gwet’in First Nations Government is keen to connect youth interested in getting back to traditional on-the-land activities and practices.

Project Canoe is a social services organization that utilizes the outdoors, including canoe trips into the wilderness, to create an environment where youth can develop life skills, resiliency and social competencies.

And the Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation is an organization whose mission is to conserve and restore the environment, not only through community engagement but also via research, education and action.

Those in the Work To Grow program will have opportunities to take part in skill development sessions and tune in to hear various guest speakers.

The youth will also have chances to connect with others in the program in order to share their experiences.

Emily McMillan, who is the deputy executive director at Nature Canada, realizes the importance of the program.

“Work To Grow acknowledges how racial justice is an ethical imperative for the well-being of nature,” she said. “We are pleased to partner with our federal partners at Parks Canada to deliver this widespread, national program that engages Black, Indigenous and other racialized youth, and enrolls our stakeholder community in an accessible ecosystem toward sustainable employment and career possibilities in Canada’s nature sector.”

- Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,