Emerging Leaders in Kitasoo/Xai’xais

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Vern Brown, Seas & Outdoor Coordinator, Kitasoo/Xai’xais. © Photo by Tavish Campbell

In Kitasoo/Xai’xais, the Emerging Leaders program is helping young people learn where they come from and who they can be.

Vern Brown has been the Supporting Emerging Aboriginal Stewards (SEAS) Coordinator for the Kitasoo/Xai’xais community since 2016. Before every hike, students take turns reciting safety procedures to recognize fresh signs of nearby bears and prevent surprising bears on the trail. One day, the group came across six grizzly bears on their way to a waterfall; none were startled by the students.

“This day was important because they saw for themselves and realized that the safety techniques work and will keep them safe.”

Nature United has supported SEAS, part of our Emerging Leaders initiative, in coastal British Columbia since 2009, giving students hands-on internships and other educational experiences to connect with the landscape and culture of their traditional territories. In Kitasoo/Xai’xais, where summer internships have been available to high school students since 2012, Vern’s top goals as coordinator are to expose his interns to as much of their territory as possible, inspire curiosity, and show them that they have opportunities once they finish school.

“I want youth to know that there is a whole lifetime of work for anyone that should choose to go down the path of stewardship.”—Vernon Brown, Seas & Outdoor Coordinator, Kitasoo/Xai’xais
Skills for Life on the Land

During a typical summer, interns spend a tremendous amount of time on the land hiking, fishing, swimming, harvesting seasonal plants, and visiting sacred sites. They develop skills they can transfer to careers—cataloguing medicinal plants, studying marine and terrestrial biology, speaking with archaeologists. By spending time in conversation with community elders, the students develop a deeper understanding and connection to the territory they will one day steward.

“When they walk away from the program, they’ve developed a better idea of who they are,” he says. “Their own set of values, passions, love, and ownership of the special places in their territory. I tell them to pick a tree, pick a clam bed, and love it. Protect it, because if you don’t, maybe no one else will.”

“Who They Can Be”

Vern sees first-hand the way his interns gain a deeper sense of pride in their culture and communities. Emerging Leaders school programs and youth internships incorporate on-the-land learning in hopes that students’ eyes will be open to all of the possibilities waiting for them once school is over. Nature United is proud to support these community-designed, community-led programs in Kitasoo/Xai’xais and across Canada, helping to develop the next generation of leaders to steward lands and waters.
“Youth in our community represent the future stewards of our territory,” Vern says. “It is our Nation’s vision to reconnect young people to the Earth and their culture. To teach them where they come from and who they can be.”

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Nature United’s work in Canada began 10 years ago when their global organization, The Nature Conservancy, was invited to join an effort to conserve the Great Bear Rainforest. But in fact, their global organization has supported Canadian conservation for decades.

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