It’s been a whirlwind summer in the forests of Northern Ontario for a group of Indigenous youth, but they have a new and valuable skill set to show for it.

Forty-six youth celebrated their graduation from the award-winning First Nations Natural Resources Youth Employment Program on Thursday afternoon with a ceremony at the Fort William First Nation Pow Wow Grounds on Mt. McKay.

The ceremony marked the beginning of a new career in the natural resources sector, built on the skills they’d learned over the last two summers, which included chainsaw and brush saw operation, forest fire fighting (the students receive their forest fire suppression ticket as part of the program), and tree planting.

Important for youth

“This program’s important for all youth,” said Savannah Bondy of Eagle Lake First Nation, one of this year’s grads. She’ll be attending Confederation College’s forest ecosystem management technician program in the fall.

“I’ve noticed big changes with many of my friends who came through here,” she said. “Even for me, when I first came through here, I was super shy, I didn’t really want to talk to many people. But as the summer went by, everybody became close and we’re building networks.”

Mark Kmill, a supervisor basted at the program’s Mink Lake camp, said the program prepares youth for the workforce.

“A lot of these kids, they come in with no resume,” he said. “We, throughout the program, give them enough certification and employment experience that they are able to flesh out a fully-functional resume.”

“We encourage everybody to attend post-secondary,” Kmill added, but said the program’s participants can go directly into jobs after graduation.