The Rotary Club of Picton invited David Bradley founder of the Outland Youth Employment Program (OYEP) and graduate of the program Amanda Misnakoshkang to their weekly Tuesday hybrid meeting at the Prince Edward Yacht Club.
Founded in 2000, OYEP is a national network of land-based education, training and work opportunities for high school aged Indigenous youth. The program is a six-week work experience which provides training and education in a supportive space that replicates various work environments.
“OYEP is a local community driven initiative that works toward equity and opportunities for indigenous youth through education training and work experience,” stated Bradley. “And the work experience happens with local industry partners, training happens through our own training operations and other training entities and education we’re partnered with one of the school boards up north and we issue co-op credits, two of them for every work term of six weeks. It’s focused on work skills, life skills and personal independence.”
As said on the OYEP website, the program takes an inclusive approach to Indigenous education, recruitment, retention and provides a safe and predictable learning environment that can be tailored to meet the needs of local communities and partners.
OYEP collaborates with local Indigenous communities and consults with Elders to ensure youth feel culturally and spiritually supported in the workplace.
“When I was a teenager, I was a little rambunctious and dare I say ruckus,” Misnakoshkang said. “At that time I had moved into a boarding home with an indigenous man who is fairly well known here in ThunderBay, but he was the one who introduced me to OYEP. As a teenager I was living with him under the condition that I needed to smarten up, go to school, if I wanted extra money I needed to get a job and kind of start thinking about my life in a real sense because I was not headed in a very promising direction, but he saw potential in me and so I did the OYEP for the whole duration of the two years so I did graduate from the program and that was really what set me up for changing my life direction in general but also my career path, because I was in the program and doing the chainsaw and tree planting, all of that stuff being out in nature and on the land it really made me feel connected and connected for the first time I had every felt in my life. As a teenager to feel that for the first time was really amazing and it definitely set me up to choose the career path I am currently in.”
Misnakoshkang now works for Matawa First Nations Management, a tribal council for nine First Nation communities and is employed in the Four Rivers department which is the environmental service group who help with a variety of environmental situations.
“I owe a lot of thanks and appreciation for what OYEP actually did for me, putting me on the right path,” expressed Misnakoshkang. “The stats say I did graduate from high school shortly after graduating the program and then I did proceed to go on to University and graduated with a bachelors of environmental studies from Lakehead University. I’m actually a student again right now, I’m back at University this time for taking native language. So I’m trying to reclaim my indigenous language, something that I never really had an opportunity to know growing up and something I’m trying to teach my children. So when I’m done class I give my kids a little lesson on things I’ve learnt and I try an include that in my day-to-day life here at work as well.”
OYEP now works with over 120 communities, are operating eight camps across the country and graduation numbers are up to 871. There are three camps in Ontario, one in Northern Manitoba, one in Northern Alberta, two in B.C. and on e in Quebec which was started this year.
“Some of the statistics, 60 per cent of graduates move on to post-secondary and 92 per cent graduate from high school,” Bradley said. “It’s a really big effort among a variety of partners to pull the program off every year. Industry, education and government along with Outland. It has been quite challenging over the years but its been so worth while. We’ve managed to keep it going and were heading into our 24th year.”
For more information on OYEP please visit https://www.oyep.ca/