The Yukon Fish and Game Association’s Youth Outdoor Education Camp took place June 22 to 28
In an increasingly digital and wired world, the annual Yukon Fish and Game Association (YFGA) camp for Yukon youth is an opportunity to unplug from phones and games, experience the land and reconnect with the natural world.
“It really is to make sure kids have a chance to get outside,” said Will Shewen, this year’s instructor. “If any time was a time to get them outside, now’s the time to push more kids into the outdoors.”
This year, the youth outdoor camp, which has been held annually since 1988, was permitted by the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations on their traditional territory at Champagne. According to Shewen, himself a YFGA Youth Outdoor Education Camp alumnus, the camp helps participants cultivate an appreciation for the Yukon wilderness and harvesting practices, leaving a legacy of responsible stewardship and positive memories,
It had a big impact on Shewen when he attended as a youth. This summer, when there was uncertainty around who would manage the camp, it was an opportunity to give back. Shewen noted that a long list of Yukoners, including Russ Tait, Clayton White, Dennis Zimmerman and Kelly Hougen have all volunteered to lead the camp over the years. Shewen couldn’t let their groundwork disappear. “This year it was looking like it might die, and I didn’t want to let that happen,” he said. “It’s really a chance to get the next generation of kids out on the land.”
The busy camp schedule exposes youth to most outdoor harvest activities, including hunting, fishing and trapping. Over the week, youth participate in workshops hosted by conservation officers, First Nations elders, hunters and guides. But the whole thing begins with a big Sunday, or Hike Day, as it’s known.
“The first day, they hike up Paint Mountain,” Shewen said. “The sheet the kids fill out at the end says that the hike is the least favourite thing. But they all remember it.”
Thrown into the wilderness with an exhausting hike is just the start for the action-filled week. Monday features a bushcraft workshop where the youth learn survival skills in the woods and how to make shelters. They also get a fishing demo and learn live catch and release practices.
The middle of the week brings trapping lessons, including lessons on laying traps and how to skin pelts, as well as paddling and canoeing lessons on the lake, and HEED (Hunters Education and Ethics Development) training. The highlight of the week, though, is always safe firearms training at the local shooting range, using a variety of hunting rifles. Every evening, the camp ends with a campfire discussion around the different lessons that have been learned during the day, and the whole experience during the week. The campfire discussions really show where the program changes and impacts youth.
“It’s funny because in the beginning they’re excited, but nervous because they’re not used to it,” said Shewen. “The first night there’s that thousand-yard stare with no flashing lights or focus.
“Kelly (Hougen) did the first night and later came back. But over the course of the week, they come out of their shells and get comfortable … and actively choosing their activities and what they want to do.”
Shewen also noted that the camp is for everyone, not just youth who come from “outdoorsy” families. That mix can lead to a great opportunity to help everyone understand the different ideas around Yukon harvesting practices.
“You get kids from families who don’t hunt,” Shewen said. “It’s an interesting mix with kids who shot a moose last fall and someone who’s never fished.
“But it’s all about respect for wildlife, respect for the resource and using the resource. Kids who might not do it, but they can learn appreciation for those who do.”
The camp usually fills up by the beginning of May each summer and is limited to 12 to 16 participants annually, who are YFGA members. While the numbers are limited, participants are able to attend free of charge due to the fundraising efforts of the YFGA. The annual YFGA raffle provides the majority of funding towards the camp.
For more information on the YFGA Youth Outdoor Education Camp, visit the website at YukonFGA.ca.