A group of Métis youth in southwestern Manitoba got a chance last week to be part of a program that aims to help them understand the world around them by sharing traditional teachings and getting active in the great outdoors.
The Manitoba Métis Federation’s Métis Environmental Leaders of Tomorrow, or MELT, program provides land-based learning opportunities for school-aged Métis youth. Young people who participated in the latest environmental day camp, which ran from Aug. 8-12 at the Riverbank Discovery Centre in Brandon, learned about climate change impacts and traditional Métis teachings.
MMF southwest region vice-president Leah LaPlante had a chance to participate in a day of teachings with the youth last week.
The MELT program is important, she said, because it is inspiring the environmental leaders of the future.
“We all know that the environment is in trouble, and it’s going to take every one of us, young and old, to work together,” she said.
That means teaching and “keep[ing] conservation in mind and good practice when it comes to clean water and safe places … and the food that we harvest from the land.”
“We were all taught how to look after what we were using from the earth, from the lake or from the ground, from the trees.”
Through MELT, youth participate in different activities to learn about the land and the impacts of climate change. That can include activities like canoeing, fishing, trapping workshops, or culture and environment camps like the one in Brandon last week, according to the MMF’s website.
For example, LaPlante and Manitoba Métis Federation southwest region representative Will Goodon attended a slingshot-making session with the youth who participated last week.
LaPlante said while that may seem like an unconventional way to learn about the land, it introduced them to a traditional skill while showcasing Métis values.
Goodon says the program showcases the power of hands-on learning, and of gaining skills and knowledge young people will use for life.
“The slingshots were not only a toy for young Métis kids back in the day … but it was also a tool,” said Goodon. “They learned how to provide for themselves, whether it was small animals, rabbits, partridges. But … it’s also a lot of fun.”
‘These youth are leaders’
LaPlante grew up along the edge of Lake Metigoshe, in southwestern Manitoba, and spent her childhood outdoors exploring the land. Her father, like many men in the community, was a trapper, and her mother had a large garden. The children would help in these spaces, learning important lessons about conservation and preserving family traditions that had been passed down for generations, she said.
The MELT program aims to carry those teachings forward into the future.
“It’s important for these young children to learn that as they move through life, if you look after the land and the water, the land and the water will look after you,” she said.
Goodon said it was exciting when the MELT program launched — it got a $1.5-million boost from the federal government’s Climate Action and Awareness Fund last year — and that feeling has only been elevated after witnessing the impacts of the program first-hand.
“Learning about … where we live and and learning about water and trees and animals and all those things are really, really important,” he said.
“As we know, there’s some serious issues going on with climate change and biodiversity and conservation issues all across the globe.… As an Indigenous nation, I think it’s important for us to be leaders, and these youth are leaders.”
There is a need for everyone to know about the environment, climate change, conservation and biodiversity, he said, since looking to the land can help people understand the world around them.
MELT integrates that approach to conservation into teachings for youth, he said, while also giving them an opportunity to have fun.
Goodon hopes to see the sessions grow and reach more regions in Manitoba, to continue connecting with youth. The hope is the program will help young people to be successful community members and strong ambassadors for the Métis nation.
“That’s going to leave an impression on them for years to come, and hopefully help mould them into being … responsible Métis citizens,” Goodon said.
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