It was a busy fun filled summer for about 13 students who took part in the Aboriginal Communities Enhancement Program (AC.E.) in Fort St. James.
Participants between the ages of 13 – 15 participated in a variety of activities from cultural pursuits to sports and crafts.
For Program Coordinator, Yvonne Gilbert, it was all about having fun.
Activities included: canoeing, making jam, berry picking, learning about natural medicines, smoking salmon, drum making, baseball camps and even taking in a true sweat lodge experience.
“This was amazing to see because the kids took part in every aspect of what the sweat lodge is all about. They were even involved in the preparation and some kids even stayed for three rounds until the bitter end,” Gilbert said.
The sweat lodge is also known as a purification ceremony, a sweat house or a medicine lodge. It is a ceremonial sauna of cleansing and it is an important way of life for many North America First Nations.
But the A.C.E. program is also about preparing youth for the workplace according to Gilbert.
“The students volunteered at Nak’azdli Band’s Annual General Meeting and also received some financial planning tips and resume writing skills,” Gilbert said.
Besides a number of fun filled activities, the program was also eye opening.
We ended the program with a trip to Vancouver and we took part in the Scared Straight Tour. This was definitely the highlight of the trip,” Gilbert said.
The “Scared Straight Tour is a tour of Vancouver’s Downtown East side which is home to North America’s most infamous skid row.
The objective of the tour was is to give youth a reality check in terms of where they could wind up if they abuse drugs and alcohol.
And it certainly did.
“I was in awe,” Gilbert said. “People were just coming up to the kids telling them that they never want to see them there.”
According To Gilbert, the program addresses addiction, not crime and the encounters with the residents are raw, spontaneous and unscripted.
The youth quickly realize that what they are seeing and hearing is not an attempt to intimidate them but rather an opportunity to witness the brutal reality of what addiction can do to a person.
For A.C.E. student Austin Button, it was an experience to remember.
“I learned a lot in Vancouver. It was probably the most important lesson in my life.”
For Gilbert, the experience was life changing.
“It has changed my perspective when it comes to kids with addictions. It really is about understanding.”
All in all, the program could not have been more successful for Gilbert.
“It was amazing to see these kids get to know each other, learn together and flourish.”