The TRCWR’s First Nations Engagement Committee launched a First Nations Youth Stewardship Program (Facebook link) in 2015, with funding from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. The goal of this initiative is to engage First Nations youth and help them learn about and make a connection with the Thames and the communities, both First Nations and non-First Nations, along the river.
The four First Nations participating in the Antler River program are:
- Aamjiwnaang First Nation
- Bkejwanong Territory (Walpole Island First Nation)
- Caldwell First Nation
- Chippewas of the Thames First Nation
The pilot project in the summer of 2015 involved two college aged leaders and four high school aged youth, who called themselves the Antler River Guardians from the 4 Directions (ARGFTFD). Over the summer, the participants gain perspective in both Western Science and Indigenous Traditional Knowledge, as well as learning about the spiritual and cultural significance of the Thames River.
For 2016, the program includes two leaders and three to four youth. The team has received extensive training including wilderness first aid, canoeing, health & safety, GPS, water quality monitoring, species at risk, social media and communications. The team’s activities include:
- Using GPS to model the river bed
- Big Canoe naming ceremony and launch, where community leaders are invited to build connections and share knowledge
- Learning about traditional teachings, drumming, medicinal plants and treaties
- Canoe trip down the Thames River, visiting First Nations along the river, recording species at risk information and erosion sites
- Wetland restoration project
- Unity Paddle with other youth groups
The project has been very well received. The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change is providing funding for three years, and the Tides Canada Dragonfly Fund also provided funds in 2015. In kind support is provided by the four participating First Nations as well as the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority. The First Nations are very supportive of the project, and the committee is looking for long term sustainable funding.