Paddling for Empowerment New Program on the Nechako River Seeks to Activate Youth Watershed Stewardship

By Ella Parker & Riley Brennan –

This past August, seven youth took part in an inaugural five-day canoeing program on the Nechako River. The River Clinic for Empowered Youth (RCEY) program consisted of one day of canoe certification training, one day of learning about the history of the Nechako watershed, and three days of paddling and camping on the upper reaches of the Nechako River. With youth participants coming from communities across the Nechako watershed, the purpose of the program was two-fold: to build outdoor and leadership skills and to form a network of youth passionate about their watershed. The RCEY program was a collaboration between the Rivershed Society of BC (RSBC), School District 91, and the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation.

Photo: Junho Bae

The program was an overwhelming success. Participants learned how to execute canoe strokes, rescue capsized canoes, and conduct an official voyageur canoe salute. They travelled to the headwaters of the Nechako River and visited the Kenney Dam, which has been diverting the flow of the Nechako River since 1952. Along the journey they learned from multiple speakers about the repercussions the dam has had on both local ecosystems and on First Nations and settler communities. Participants also learned how to practice Leave-No-Trace principles for travelling and camping in the outdoors. Some of the challenging portions of the trip included participants portaging canoes and gear over land and braving the rapids downstream of Cheslatta Falls.

Youth also participated in several activities to give them tools for having their voices heard on the topic of their watershed and to gain the confidence to do so. The final product of the trip consisted of a ‘zine art project—a small circulation, hand-made magazine. Participants expressed their opinions around the question: If the Nechako could talk, what would it say? The ‘zine will be distributed around the four Nechako watershed communities.

Seventeen-year-old RCEY participant Skyler Fitzpatrick from Vanderhoof describes the impact the trip has had on her: “This trip solidified my desire to protect and restore areas of our watershed,” she says.“I think we need to get more people out there to connect to nature and our beautiful river.”

This new regional program builds off similar programs organized by the Rivershed Society of BC, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the health of the Fraser River and its tributaries. RCEY organizers Megan Rempel, Petra Markova, Riley Brennan, and Ella Parker are all alumni of the RSBC’s Sustainable Living Leadership Program, a 29-day voyageur canoe and rafting expedition on the Fraser River. After their experience on the Fraser, the organizers became inspired to offer similar experiences for more youth and hoped that programs that are shorter in length like RCEY would be accessible to a larger audience.

As BC Rivers Day approaches on Sept 22, we are reminded that all rivers in BC need local stewards and advocates, and therefore we need opportunities for youth to experience them. Based on the success of this year’s RCEY program, organizers are already looking ahead to next year with ideas for how to expand the program and involve more partners in future years. If you are interested in learning more about the RCEY, please visit www.rivershed.com or contact ellabuchanparker@gmail.com.

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