Youth from NVSS and other schools in SD91 discussed community stressors due to resource extraction and cumulative impacts during a workshop held at UNBC on March 15.
Inheritors of the future: Rural and Northern community driven voices of youth contemplating resource extraction in the Nechako Valley and Dakelh Territories — is a project led by Dr. Vanessa Sloan Morgan, a post-doctoral researcher at UNBC.
Students from grade 10 to 12, in the school district had attended a similar session with Sloan Morgan last September. The focus for the March workshop was defined by what the youth had raised as topics of concerns in their communities during the workshop last fall.
During the fall workshop, students heard from foresters about the effects of spraying. A presentation was also made by representatives from the First Nations Center who spoke about the impact of residential schools on communities. Sloan Morgan said even though this was outside the ambit of resource extraction, it spoke about the social fabric of communities especially in Northern B.C.
Lachlan Pedersen, a grade 10 student at NVSS said the 2019 workshop made him more confident about his voice being heard in the community.
“So we did an activitiy where we wrote down what we see for the future, what problems we see and a lot of that came up in Vanderhoof was a lot of activities for the youth. Just getting the youth more involved. This workshop helped me because I know that if I want to make a difference in the community, I can be heard. They motivated me to make a difference in the community,” he said.
Some topics of concern raised by SD91 students in resource based communities such as Vanderhoof, Fort St. James, Fraser Lake and Burns Lake, were in regard to gang violence, corruption, poverty, wildfires and drug exposure — as per the 2018 workshop summary report available online.
They said they wanted to see more re-plantation done in logged areas, selective logging; new ways to work out differences added with more and different support for communities; reduced pollution outputs; renewable energy and more garbage cans — as per the report.
“Impacts from colonialism and resource extraction that youth saw in their community such as gang violence, substance misuse and the recent wildfires, guided their priorities. Youth wanted to see changes to the forestry industry to encourage more diverse reforestation, support in the community for people who may be struggling or experience barriers accessing services and more renewable energy and environmentally conscious decisions,” read the report from the September workshop.
Sloan Morgan said youth involvement in the communities included leveraging from already established programs and movements and mobilizing with one another for community improvement.
“I feel when the youth’s voices are heard and they are engaged in a meaningful way, it’s actually amazing how insightful and perceptive and even imaginative youth are in terms of problem solving and what they want for the future,” she said.
Sloan Morgan said that some youth from Fraser Lake during the session in March, spoke about concerns of the population aging and because they were from towns that depend on forestry, they spoke about the lack of services.
“They spoke about how the population is dwindling and how they want to be able to support the older people in the community by having a place for them to live in. This is something that people may not think about when they think of the youth. They were concerned about everybody in the community. Yes it’s their future,” she said.
“Yes, they are looking at climate change and looking at all these big topics around supporting older population and also making sure that there are other jobs and health care services to fall back on when the mill is closed,” added Sloan Morgan.
Whereas youth from Fort St. James in last year’s workshop spoke about support for people who are stigmatized or people with mental health challenges, Sloan Morgan said, adding students also discussed support for people challenged with substance use.
“All these huge questions are being asked by the youth — what they can do in their communities, and also world wide.” she said.
In terms of a future workshop, she said they have applied for funding to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The results of which will be known in June.
“If we get the funding, that will not only help in holding these workshops to talk about topics that we identify as important but then also hopefully hold dialogue between decision makers, media and people essentially in the Nechako Valley and region, so that the youth can not only have discussions with us at the University but they can also bring back those to communities and be like ‘hey, what we can do about this?’ So that is the long term goal,” Sloan Morgan said.
Sloan Morgan is the recipient of a 2017-18 Banting Fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The award provides $70,000 a year in funding for up to two years of research. Sloan Morgan’s award is one of only 70 Banting Fellowships awarded across Canada. She is the third UNBC post-doctoral researcher to receive one.