Wilderness Tourism Association of the Yukon manager, Kelly Faser, from left, and president Kalin Pallett, sit for a photo with Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association board of directors member Melina Hougen, and tourism development officer Caili Steelafter talking about how the two organizations are combining forces for a pilot project this spring in the Yukon. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukon pilot project aims to train First Nations youth to become wilderness guides

Eight youth will be selected to take part in training this spring in Champagne

A pilot project being undertaken by two Yukon tourism associations is aiming to train First Nations youth this spring on becoming wilderness guides.

Headed by the Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association (YFNCT) in collaboration with the Wilderness Tourism Association of the Yukon (WTAY), the project will see eight First Nations youth ages 18 to 30 participate in an intensive, four-week-long training course at Long Ago People’s Place in Champagne. Participants will be living together at a camp meant to mimic the conditions of being on a river excursion, and on top of getting certified for industry-standard skills like wilderness first aid, will also learn cultural interpretation skills and protocols from Yukon First Nations elders and knowledge-keepers.

Following training, participants will be able to apply for paid internships at a number of WTAY-affiliated businesses.

YFNCT tourism development officer Caili Steel said the pilot project was created to address both the lack of First Nations people working in the Yukon tourism industry and a lack of culture-focused tourism opportunities.

“Those are the two main goals of the project — get more First Nations people, help them get into industry by taking away some of those barriers around training and cost for training and to really encourage culture to be a focal point because people are coming to traditional territories and that’s important,” Steel said.

“We want to make sure these youth are really culturally-rooted coming out of this program and have strong understandings of protocols around story sharing and for travelling through the different traditional territories … because when they are really rooted, then they can pass that knowledge on to visitors, teaching them how to travel respectfully through the territories.”

Elders and knowledge-keepers from Champagne and Aishihik First Nation, Kwanlin Dün First Nation, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, Ta’an Kwäch’än Council and Kluane First Nation are expected to participate in the training.

Participants for the pilot project will be asked to pay a $500 registration fee that will cover all transportation, accommodation, training and certification, the last one of which Steel said is worth thousands of dollars alone.

WTAY president Kalin Pallett said his association is supporting the initiative because, in recent years, there’s been an increased demand for “cultural product” but not enough resources to meet that demand. As well, in the past, people would book wilderness excursions well in advance, but that’s no longer the case.

“Now, people are showing up almost unannounced, or in some cases, unannounced … and wanting to join trips, and all of a sudden, you’re literally scrambling to find guides, so having a larger pool to draw from is only going to benefit the industry,” he said.

Having a local pool of wilderness guides — especially ones who know Yukon First Nations traditions and stories — also offers tourists a different experience, YFNCT board of directors member Melina Hougen said.

“It’s just kind of a more personal experience and a different perspective of the land, the river,” she said. “So much of the focus, I think, has been on the Gold Rush history, especially for the Yukon River, so this is just kind of a chance to follow the national trend of more Indigenous tourism.”

Applicants can apply online at tinyurl.com/yfnwildguide. The deadline for applications is April 14. Training is scheduled to start May 6.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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