REDISCOVERY programs in the north

🕔Jun 04, 2009

Be nice to whites—they need you to rediscover their humanity. ~Desmond Tutu

In the world today, youth face enormous global challenges that are not of their own making. Climate change, population growth, dwindling resources, deforestation, species extinction, pollution, ethnic hatred, nuclear war, AIDS—it’s not exactly a desirable inheritance.

Aboriginal youth have even more to contend with. Living with the echoes of the systematic racism and discrimination that accompanied the European conquest of their territories is, in a word, tough. Regardless of how far we’ve come, it is inarguable that the kids are going to have a rough go. What can be done?

The foundation of every state is the education of its youth. ~Diogenes Laertius

Formal education has good intentions, but it isn’t a solution for every problem—nor is it a good fit for all. Most people have heard about an unruly, unmanageable teen who, when placed in an outdoor setting with real responsibilities, becomes a different person – one willing to engage, to be sympathetic or empathetic, to consider others, to lead.

Thirty years ago on the north shore of Haida Gwaii, local native and non-native communities decided to create a dynamic youth project for youth to help fight against substance abuse and juvenile delinquency. Innovative in its simplicity, effective in its practicality, Rediscovery is an outdoor education experience based on native traditions; its goal is to uplift a person’s whole being.

“Drawing on the teachings of Indigenous peoples and wisdom of the elders, with a philosophy of love and respect for each other and the earth, Rediscovery seeks to empower youth of all ages to discover the world within themselves, the world between cultures and the natural world.” ~ Rediscovery organization homepage:

Rediscovery now has camps throughout BC, Alberta, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, the US, and Thailand. It is a classroom outside. It is hands-on. It honours the wisdom of the elders, and provides a safe place for sharing and learning new challenges. It honours the land that sustains, the cultural heritage that enlightens, and the skills and knowledge that enable. It is notable that Rediscovery is inclusive. First Nations youth may be given priority, but all are welcome, native and non-native alike.

The only source of knowledge is experience. ~Albert Einstein
Mel Bazil, a Gitxsan-Wet’suwet’en former Rediscovery leader and board member, came to the program as a townie. Learning the hard way, he completed a multi-day hike in city clothes and Doc Martens—and managed to come out in one piece, inspired. “The transformations are what it’s all about,” he states, and as he refers to the Wet’suwet’en songs that were sung, the dances that were danced, the words that were spoken, the activities learned on the land and the quiet time spent alone, one hears the impact of those experiences resonate. “Learning belongs outdoors. Youth become connected to the land and find out that they have the tools to manage. The skills that they learn in Rediscovery can apply elsewhere.”

In this way, hard skills and soft skills are woven into the wisdom of their elders and create a footing for self-awareness and self-confidence, not to mention a connection with the earth and others. Empathy is cultivated through shared experiences and personal challenges, not to mention the sense of belonging and strength that results. And it’s real! Youth love learning things that are immediately and directly applicable to their lives. Much of what they are fed in the formal system is theory, not practice.

Pat Pederson, currently teaching at Houston Secondary, was heavily involved in founding and running the Babine Nation Rediscovery program, and also participated in Canoe Quest 2006. Rooted in First Nations culture through her mother, who was Similkameen (Okanagan), Pat also emphasized the inestimable value of First Nations youth connecting with the land and rediscovering their own culture, as well as the imperative to detach from electronics and the day-to-day barrage of stimuli that is part of parcel of modern living.

“Many youth don’t know how to listen to their internal voice and/or to be still. There are parts of every day where the kids are silent for an hour. They choose their place and they go there: it is required. When you’re out there alone, without any external stimulation (but still within whistle distance of an adult), you figure out who you are.” Positive growth and change through Rediscovery’s experiences has led to many youth coming back to take on roles as team leaders.

Man’s heart away from nature becomes hard. ~Standing Bear
Rediscovery has proven itself to be both enduring and flexible. A base model for camps provides a foundation from which to build, and individual nations and places are encouraged to tailor the program to suit their culture and the needs of their youth, in a fashion that continues to respect the founding philosophy. There exists autonomy between camps; for example, the introspective hour or “spirit spot” that builds up to the “Solo” or “Vision Quest” (a Rediscovery staple), “is similar to a Wet’suwet’en rite of passage,” explains Bazil.

Now I see the secret of making the best persons: it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth. ~Walt Whitman
Like anything worthwhile, establishing a Rediscovery camp also requires effort, and lots of it. The model and protocol provides a consistent starting point for some logistics. The real work begins when interested parties look at the cultural specifics of the group and ask themselves what exactly the youth are going to rediscover – what is their respective culture? This introspection on a community level (i.e. examining heritage, values, finding elders to share the wisdom and leaders to take the requisite training) is a valuable reflective exercise no matter what the goal.

Pat Pederson’s most poignant moment during her time with Rediscovery took place when the group was travelling up and down Lake Babine searching for a site to situate the camp. The elders on board shared countless stories of what happened where, including tales both hilarious and heartbreaking: “One place was where Mary met the moose, and another was where the priest hid the children so they wouldn’t get taken to residential school…I never laughed so hard in my life, and I still regret that I didn’t have a tape recorder.”

I believe in God, only I spell it Nature. ~Frank Lloyd Wright

First Nations’ and Rediscovery’s acknowledgement of the sanctity of all life (not just human) and respect for the natural world is a belief that is gaining more and more street credibility these days, particularly in the face of accurately dour predictions from a majority of the world’s scientists. It is accepted by most that humans can’t expect the earth to support our billions in the manner to which we have become accustomed. Something has to give. Perhaps it is time for those of us in the developed world to rediscover what we have lost, i.e. our connection with each other; the environment; ourselves. As Bazil said, “Working in the camp is a give-and-take. The youth often teach as much as the teachers. It is the youth who teach us.”

The question is: are we listening? And do we want to hear what they have to say? For our own good, I hope so.

Northwest BC Rediscovery Camps

Haida Gwaii Rediscovery
Taalung Slung (Lepas Bay)
Box 684, Masset BC, V0T 1M0
Swan Bay Rediscovery
Box 1383, 
Skidegate, BC, V0T 1S1
Kispiox (Anspayaxw) Rediscovery
Site K, Comp 128
Hazelton, BC, V0J 1Y0
Kitlope Nu-Yum Rediscovery
Box 1068
Kitimaat Village, BC, V0T 2B0
Lake Babine Nation (Boiling Point Rediscovery)
Box 879
Burns Lake, BC, V0J 1E0
Chako Kunamokst Rediscovery
Box 747
Bella Coola, BC, V0T 1C0
Gingolx (Kincolith) Rediscovery
Kincolith, BC, V0V 1B0
Koeye Project Society
Box 786 
Waglisla, BC
Muskwa-Kechika Youth Environment Camp
Box 9
Lower Post, BC, V0C 1W0
M-K Wilderness Youth Program 20
(Treaty 8 Tribal Assoc, BC)
10233-100th Avenue
Fort St. John, BC, V1J 1Y8