NEWS

Paying It Forward

February 05, 2020

head and shoulders shot of Lucas wearing a t-shirt that reads "May the Forest Be With You"

By Lucas DePerry, Intern, Indigenous and Youth Relations, PLT Canada

My earliest memories

I spent the first years of my life in my family’s home community of Ginoogaming First Nation #77 in Northern Ontario. Some of my earliest memories are of being on the land and checking snare traps with my grandfather. He taught me that if we were successful, we had to harvest the entire animal. Once we had taken what we needed, we would give the remainder to other families in the community. I also remember making delicious fry bread with my grandmother. Though I was never any good at it, I knew how important it was to share those moments with her.

When I was just 5 years old, my family moved to Thunder Bay in northern Ontario. We felt that the city would have better opportunities for education and healthcare than the reserve could provide. I have lived in Thunder Bay ever since. Moving to the city wasn’t easy for me. In school, I was often excluded during group work and other class activities. I felt that other students had an issue with me because they thought I was different. Looking back, I now know that this is a challenge many First Nation youth continue to face at school and in the workplace.

Finding my passion

Things began to quickly change for me in 2016. That summer, I was invited to join the Outland Youth Employment Program (OYEP) — my first summer job! OYEP is a six-week program that teaches Indigenous youth about education and career opportunities in the natural resources sectors. Over the summer, we earn certificates and high school co-op credits, tour forests, mills, colleges and universities, and get put to work in the bush doing tree planting and brush thinning.

We wake up bright and early each morning. We are outside every single day. It doesn’t matter what the weather is or how bad the bugs get! Despite the hard work, or perhaps because of it, that first summer I learned a lot about myself. I learned about the importance of a steady daily schedule. I learned that I really do enjoy working hard. I also learned that I enjoy making money!

After completing my second year as a Ranger, I joined the OYEP staff team as a Crew Leader in Training. 2020 will be my third summer in this position. This role has helped me grow in many ways. I’ve found my strength in leadership. I can take initiative when doing group work. And I’ve become a person who is not afraid to speak up. I also discovered my passion for working with youth—something I would have never known were it not for OYEP.

When it’s not summer break, I work in after school recreation at Dennis Franklin Cromarty (DFC) High School in Thunder Bay. DFC is an all First Nation high school that serves remote communities from all over northern Ontario. It gives their youth the opportunity to earn their high school diploma. I started this position in 2018 after my first summer as a Crew Leader in Training with OYEP. Being a recreation worker is a lot like my job with OYEP. Both have helped me grow as a person and be a better model for the young people I work with.

Lucas wearing sunglasses at a music festival

At the 2019 Blueberry Jam music gathering in Flin Flon, Manitoba.

Paying it Forward

For the next six months, I’ll be working as a Youth Liaison with Outland, Project Learning Tree Canada and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). Last summer, the three organizations signed a partnership agreement to work on Indigenous youth opportunities together. Through the partnership, each organization has committed to helping even more Indigenous youth participate in OYEP. The organizations will also work together to find new ways to better support Indigenous youth along their education and career pathways. In my new role, I’ll be helping to bring that support to life!

I am really looking forward to continuing my own professional growth through my work with Outland, PLT Canada and SFI. I hope to grow as a leader and develop great communication skills. I hope to push myself to speak in front of larger crowds and to network confidently at events. Most importantly, I hope to help even more Indigenous youth discover the same amazing opportunities I’ve had!

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