Swiftwater For Youth: The Future Is YOW

While many of us sit around waiting for the fallout of holes in our ozone, the folks at Skeena Watershed are hard at work creating leaders who may be the cure our planet needs. 

The Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition was established in 2004 by individuals living and working in the Skeena watershed. This diverse group of people understood that industrial development wouldn’t benefit their region in the long run if it undermined the social and environmental fabric that held the watershed and its communities together. At the same time, they knew that watershed residents would benefit from initiatives that integrated holistically into their lives and environment.

But navigating the line between damaging and beneficial would be impossible without a sturdy foundation to start from… and so began SWCC’s mission of stitching the people and their land together. 

Youth on Water river guiding

SWCC’s mission has taken it on quite a journey since its inception.

They’ve challenged politics, joined research projects, and created local jobs. Powerful journeys of reconciliation work have been navigated, fractured communities have been brought together, and lasting relationships have been built. And underlining all the politics and social movement is a fierce dedication to the children and youth in the Watershed. 

“We protect rivers by creating a link

between people and their environment.”

– Shannon McPhail, SWCC Executive Director

One of the strongest links SWCC creates is between kids and the rivers in their backyards.

Youth On Water is SWCC’s flagship program, and its paddling trips link the future leaders of Watershed with their home environment in a profound way. Paddling the river by day and camping under the stars by night is a medicine like no other. Kids leave the river, a blossoming relationship with the land cupped in their hands. 

During their week-long paddling program, YOW participants are equipped with the tools that will nourish their new relationship. Technical swiftwater rescue for youth skills keep them safe, and make them employable. They learn about their Watershed’s ecosystem. They experience natural situations which invite them to practice leadership skills. Fish biologists lead them through the lifecycle of Skeena salmon and trout.

And all of this knowledge is placed within the context of their own Watershed’s history and culture. 

The Origins Of Youth On Water

YOW started with nine participants in 2009.  Today, YOW operates full-time for four months each summer in communities across northern BC, logging over 1,000 days on the river each season.  

Every last participant attends for free. Annual commitments from First Nations and NGO’s continue to make participant enrolment free, and allow for the maintenance of an open-source YOW Curriculum Handbook. Individual donations also come in many shapes and sizes; canned salmon for raft trip lunches, used paddling gear, shuttle driving, discounted swiftwater rescue training, and hours of equipment repairs all contribute to the success of the Skeena Watershed’s YOW programs. 

“It is SWCC’s long term goal to have all YOW programs organized and led by former participants,” says Shannon.

Youth On Water guide team

“Our Associate Director, Brian Huntington, hires a junior guide each year that works hard to become a senior guide the following year and, finally, a trip leader. We hope to train and certify several guides, not only for YOW programs, but to contribute to more rafting companies in the region. This is our way of creating more skilled workers for a sustainable industry in our watershed.”  In fact, 2018 marked the first time that SWCC’s entire guide team was comprised of previous YOW participants. 

When faced with an insurmountable problem like climate change, creating experiences that slice through social inertia are one of the most powerful ways to invest in the future.

In this sense, YOW programs are the perfect recipe:

Adventure, history and education are shaken together,

and possibility pours out.

Shannon is resolute when asked about the potential for other YOW programs. “The YOW model is ready for Canada. Skeena Watershed may have paved the way, but now we’re here to give every remote and rural community with a river in Canada the tools they need to develop their own YOW program.”

Supporting Swiftwater Training For Youth

Raven has proudly partnered with the Skeena Watershed Coalition Council to provide support to the YOW programs in our own Watershed through Swiftwater Rescue Technician Level 1 courses and rescue equipment.

In coming years, Raven will increase support by making bursary funds available to remote and rural communities across Canada who want to develop their own YOW programs. We stand behind opportunities that place human beings in direct contact with one another and their natural environment. These are the intersections where innovation happens.

If you think that your community is ready for its own YOW program, now is the time to contact the Skeena Watershed Coalition Council.  

As they say at the Watershed… the future is YOW.