Camp a life-changer for Yukon Youth

Wade Istchenko, MLA for Kluane

As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, July 31st, 2015
by Wade Istchenko, Minister of Environment

This year the Yukon Youth Conservation Corps (Y2C2) and the Conservation Action Team (CAT) celebrate 25 successful years of programming.

CAT began operation in 1990 and continues to offer rare opportunities for young Yukoners to learn about and experience the natural wonders found in our territory. Each summer the program offers three camps for youth in Grades 6-9: two Cheechako camps for the 6th and 7th graders, and a Sourdough camp for the 8th and 9th graders.

Made possible by Yukon government funding, the camps offer 8-10 days of travel and exploration by van, canoe and foot. Topics and activities include ecology and wildlife management, hunting, trapping, fishing, mining, and agriculture. With an average 30 campers per summer (some doing both levels of the camp), more than 700 youth will have participated in the camps by the end of 2015.

Cheechako camps have mostly been run in the Carmacks-Pelly area, from Tatchun Lake to Fort Selkirk and Pelly Ranch. Over the years, Sourdough level campers have travelled to every road-accessible part of Yukon. The camps have also visited many remote areas, including Tuktoyaktuk, NWT.

The Yukon Youth Conservation Corps (Y2C2) program began operation in 1992. Its purpose is to offer another level of training and opportunity for Yukon youth interested in environmental conservation.

Past topics have included wildlife research, public education, trail-building, wire and garbage cleanups, invasive weed pulls and infrastructure development. This year, as in other years, senior staff led elementary school students in age-appropriate, curriculum-linked, outdoor learning activities.

As minister, I am very pleased to hear the enthusiasm expressed by past participants about the impact of these camps on their lives. One former participant, who is now a Fish & Wildlife Technician for Environment Yukon, says “I was fortunate to be on one of the first Conservation Action Teams. I remember it as a great summer adventure of seeing different parts of the Yukon and making friends from other communities… (It) really solidified my interest in working in this field.”

My department has received other rave reviews from former campers, which I’m happy to share:

“CAT camps raised the bar on what to expect of myself as an adult as they were so far out of my knowledge and comfort zone as a kid at the beginning.”

“Y2C2 taught me how to be an adult. And that being an adult can be fun!”

“CAT gave me the chance to see and be in places in the Yukon I would never have had access to otherwise – this kind of program, were it not offered by the government, would have been out of reach financially for my, and many other families. It was invaluable in teaching me ways of knowing and appreciating my Yukon home, the northern natural world, and opening my eyes to places and people living in ways I wouldn’t have encountered otherwise. And, 21 years later, I want my daughter, and all children, to be able to do this, I find it to be of such value.”

If that doesn’t say it all, maybe the numbers will. Here are some interesting stats from Environment Yukon Youth Programs:

  • CAT – 74 camps, 733 student campers, 675 days in the field.
  • Y2C2 – 652 projects completed, 491 high school and post-secondary students hired for summer work, 14 First Nation partners, and 27 Yukon settlements in which we’ve worked.
  • Kindergarten to Grade 7 students in 10 schools engaged during 2015 – 693.
  • Number of kilometres of rivers & lakes paddled – Unknowable.
  • Bad Jokes told – 678,454,001.
  • Number of ah-ha moments experienced: Incalculable.

 

I’d like to thank all the organizers and instructors who have enabled this program to run so successfully for a quarter century. I encourage Yukoners to find out more about Environment Yukon’s youth programs available to you or your children by visiting www.env.gov.yk.ca/envirowild.

An anniversary weekend retreat is planned for August 21-23 at the Kusawa Lake Campground. All past participants in the CAT and Y2C2 programs (and their families) are invited to join in celebrations, including campfire gatherings, a group dinner, and a retrospective slide presentation.