Sept. 28, 2023

Indigenous youth from across Canada descend on Barrier Lake Field Station in July

Outland Youth Employment Program provides land-based work experience, training and education, this year for double the number of students
Outland Youth Employment Program participants.
Outland Youth Employment Program participants. Brittany McCoy

Summer is a busy time for the University of Calgary’s Barrier Lake Field Station. Researchers venture from far and wide to stay at the facility and complete their summer field work, universities hold courses and institutions host gatherings to discuss new research.

One group notably absent from the usual summer chaos is youth, as school is out for the summer and the Biogeoscience Institute (BGI) school programs take a break until fall. Things looked a little different this July as 50 Indigenous youth from across Canada descended on the field station as a part of the Outland Youth Employment Program. 

The Outland Youth Employment Program (OYEP) is a national network that aims to provide land-based work experience, training and education to Indigenous youth. Throughout the six-week paid program, youth are given opportunities to learn about, and work in, natural resource industries such as mining, forestry and silviculture.

The participants also explore post-secondary science education programs by spending a week on campus at a host university, and receive employment certifications including WHMIS and First Aid, while also receiving high-school credit. The program is also designed to allow participants to return for consecutive years, building leadership skills as they move from rangers to crew leaders-in-training and can eventually become crew leaders.

When asked what makes their program unique, OYEP Southern Alberta Camp Supervisor Paige Hopper highlights that the program doesn’t end after the six weeks. The network is there to support the youth with whatever they need, whether that be graduating high school, finding housing or applying for university.

“Followup is a big thing. It’s not just six weeks and then we expect them to figure everything out after that,” she says.

Camp size doubles this year

This July, the Barrier Lake Field Station was set to host 25 youth and nine leaders with the OYEP Southern Alberta Camp for two weeks of their six-week program. Due to the dangerous wildfire situation in Northern Alberta, the Northern Camp became a last-minute add-on, doubling the number of youth and leaders.

Due to flexibility and adaptability from everyone involved, the program was still able to run as planned and provided youth with opportunities for tree planting, trail building, attending local Indigenous cultural gatherings and exploring the unique landscape of the Southern Rockies. Participants in the program are grateful for the opportunity to learn and receive training, while also earning money for the summer.

Harley Kezer, a 20-year-old participant in his second year of the program, was relocated from the north camp this year. Although he says it is difficult to be away from home for so long, especially now that they are down south and even further from his home in Dawson Creek, he was excited to be at the field station and see a new part of Alberta. He describes the program as a great way to learn about what having a job is like, while also getting to travel, explore and meet new people. OYEP is “one of the best jobs you can have at such a young age,” he says.

Gage Young, 19, is a crew leader-in-training who has gone through the program for the past four years. He has worked his way up from ranger to crew leader-in-training and describes his position as being responsible for the rangers and being a good role model for them. He sees the program as getting the youth ready for an actual job and encouraging them to be respectful.

During their time at the field station, some of the activities for the OYEP participants included maintaining and building sections of the Trans Canada Trail, gathering cones and planting trees in logging blocks, and attending a local pow wow. They were also given some time to explore on their own, with many taking advantage of nearby Barrier Lake in the hot summer evenings or exploring the network of trails around the station.

Having more youth around the field station during the summer months was an exciting change, and hopefully there will be future opportunities for OYEP and the Barrier Lake Field Station to work together in the future.

Sign up for UToday

Sign up for UToday

Delivered to your inbox — a daily roundup of news and events from across the University of Calgary's 14 faculties and dozens of units

Thank you for your submission.