Stewardship Grads Eager to Protect their Lands and Waters

In a moving graduation ceremony in Prince Rupert, eleven proud students took turns accepting their well-deserved certificates for the Stewardship Technicians Training Program (STTP).

The program, now in its third full year, is a partnership between Coastal First Nations and Vancouver Island University that provides stewardship training for First Nations throughout BC’s Central and North Coast and Haida Gwaii.

During STTP’s two-year study period, students learn applied stewardship skills and knowledge through intensive training, both in the field and in the classroom, which they can bring back to their own communities – often as Coastal Guardian Watchmen or in similar stewardship roles. The training provides industry-recognized certificates and university credits that can also be applied toward future studies related to land and marine stewardship.

“It’s been an amazing experience over these last two years and I’ve really learned a lot,” says new STTP grad Alec James Willie, who is also a Coastal Guardian Watchmen for the Wuikinuxv First Nation. “I loved learning how to sample water and soils, as well as doing vegetation and animal habitat surveys. I’ll be using all that knowledge back home for sure.”

The STTP courses were held in various locations throughout the coast, including Tsimshian, Haida, Wuikinuxv and Heiltsuk territories, where students learned from local knowledge holders whenever possible. All courses were taught by seasoned instructors, who shared their expertise in a range of topics – from resource monitoring and archaeology to cultural awareness and leadership skills.

Willie says he’s especially thankful for what he was able to learn from the other students, who came from various Nations throughout the coast. In an example of intergenerational learning that’s often experienced within the program, Willie’s fellow Guardian Watchmen from Wuikinuxv, Patrick Johnson, was also at the ceremony to receive his certificate. “It’s been great to work and learn from Patrick, because he grew up on the land here,” says Willie.

For his part, Johnson enrolled in STTP to brush up on skills that he’s honed over many years plying the waters throughout Wuikinuxv Territory, and he was able to share that long-term experience with younger students like Willie and others. “I’m just teaching them the land; where you can fish, where you can’t fish, and what rocks you have to avoid,” he said with a laugh.

Johnson says the courses enhanced his stewardship skills, but they also inspired him and the other students in ways they couldn’t imagine at first. “When we first started, we didn’t know each other and didn’t say much at all,” he recalls. “Now we’re a family; we do everything together.”

Johnson, Willie and the other recent STTP graduates are looking forward to another season working to protect their lands and waters.

We gratefully acknowledge the generous support of the Province of British Columbia through the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation and the Tula Foundation, which hosted several courses at the Hakai Institute on Calvert Island.