Narwhal_Youth_Hunt-28

They’d never been hunting. Now, Indigenous youth learn skills, culture and language — thanks to a First Nation program

A pilot project to educate youth in hunting is part of a broader push to connect Lake Babine youth with the land

“Our hunting values are simple, really. We provide for the family, we provide for different families. We do the best we can to provide for anybody that needs it,” Jordan Williams, a hunter from Lake Babine Nation, says. 

Jordan is part of a pilot program led by Lake Babine Nation to bring youth on the land to learn to hunt. The program connects youth who have never hunted before to those with experience, under the guidance of seasoned older hunters like Jordan.

The program launched in fall 2023 with a hunt that brought about a dozen youth on the land for three days. This year, they are planning a bigger hunt that will last about three weeks. The youth will learn practical skills like firearm safety, along with the culture and values around hunting. The nation is fully funding the program and they hope to make it a long-term annual trip.

The initiative is gaining steam with the recent launch of Lake Babine’s Guardians program in April. Indigenous Guardians patrol, monitor and steward lands and waters according to their own governance and community priorities and values. The Lake Babine initiatives are oriented to the same goal — fostering connections between people and the land.

Steven Bayes, a hunter who played a big role coordinating the inaugural hunt, says the youth started out shy but by the end of the few days, “the bond they all had formed was amazing.”

Lake Babine hunter Lyle Michell, wearing a bandana on his head and sunglasses, shows a firearm to one of the youth learning to hunt. They are both smiling widely, and the sun glows warmly behind them
A close-up of one of the youth looking through the scope of a rifle. He wears a grey hat and looks intensely off camera to the right
Lyle Michell teaches one of the youth about using a firearm. The team plans to bring back the same youth for a second hunt to build their skills so they can teach others.

“I shot my first grouse,” Jesse Heron says. “I shot a gun for the first time.” In two words, he summarized the week as “fun” and “cold.”

For young hunter Thomas Williams, making the nightly fires was his favourite part, and the trip helped him break out of his shell.

Lake Babine hunter Steven Bayes stands on the left, his face lightly illuminated by his headlamp. The scene is almost completely black, with his headlamp illuminating his hand floating in the darkness holding a smoking bundle of smudge, and the face of a youth with their eyes closed as they are smudged
Steven (left) smudges the group on a cold fall evening. “Mother Nature really helps you find your natural stability,” he says. “That sense of accomplishment when you fell a tree, or start a campfire with a flint striker without using accelerants or lighter or match. Just that sense of accomplishment that you see in the kids — the sense of excitement and happiness — that’s the highlight for me.”
A tent is almost completely dark. In the centre at the back of the tent, a Lake Babine youth wears a headlamp as he does up his boot. Sleeping bags fill the floor in the foreground.
The scene is mostly black, with a campfire in the centre. Lake Babine hunters and youth stand and sit around the fire, appearing orangey-red in its light.
Jordan wants to use the time on the hunts to share history and stories about “how great their ancestors were,” like his own mother, who would tan multiple moose hides at once by herself. A wet moose hide typically weighs over 100 pounds, and takes weeks on end to process. It’s so labour-intensive that people often work on moose hides in small groups. “She was the shortest lady in Burns Lake but she was strong,” he says.
A logging road extends into the distance centre frame, and three of the Lake Babine hunters walk in a row away from the camera. The grass and trees on either side of them are tinted gold in early light. Ahead of the hunters is a breathtaking view of snow-capped mountains and mist hanging over the land.
“It’s a huge territory that we live on — I want them to utilize the stuff that’s out there. It’s a big world out there,” Jordan says.
In the centre, Lyle Michell wears a bright orange tuque and focuses on the scope of his rifle, looking off camera to the right. Two youth stand behind each shoulder, watching intently to learn.
Lyle (centre) says hunting “feels like meditating,” especially when done solo. “You see things differently when you’re out there by yourself. It makes you more open to listening,” he says. “Then when you harvest something and get what you need — it’s really good, it makes the people happy that they have food for the year.”
One youth wearing a tuque smiles happily as he stacks up campfire logs in another youth's hands. Other youth hunters line up ready to take more wood to prepare for a fire. The sunlight is warm but it's clearly a cold day
Four Lake Babine hunters stand in front of a truck holding their firearms, a mix of smiling and serious. Two youth flank either side of the group, dressed warmly in plaid, hoodies, puffer jackets, hats and boots.
Four youth stand on a hill, all facing away from the camera, looking at something on the ground. They wear backpacks and jackets with their hoods up. They are on a gravelly road with trees in the distance on Lake Babine territory.
To restore habitat and moose populations, Lake Babine Nation is working with forestry licensees to improve logging practices in the region, including by widening buffer zones around wetlands and reducing cutblock sizes. Steven says the Guardians are launching grizzly and wolf monitoring projects this year to keep an eye on the population, and will use the data to inform predator reduction efforts. He would also like to see temporary pauses on moose hunting, closing off sections of the territory for five years at a time. “We want to start giving the moose a fair chance at repopulating in those areas,” he says.
A portrait of Lake Babine hunter Jordan Williams, a middle-aged man wearing a black baseball camp and green jacket with his rifle slung over his shoulder. He looks off camera to the right, with a background of trees and overcast sky
“I love the youth. They keep me young,” Jordan says with a chuckle. Nedut’en was Jordan’s first language, but he says today there are no fluent speakers under 40 years old. He wants to teach youth everything he can about their Carrier ways. “They need it,” he says.
A close-up of a youth in profile, leaning over a smudge bundle and blowing to create more smoke. He wears tuque over a baseball cap, which obscures his eyes. Another youth sits beside him.
Steven says mental health is a huge component of what he wants to teach youth through the hunts. He says less youth have gotten the early experience of hunting due to residential schools, which prevented knowledge being passed down and caused intergenerational trauma. Indigenous men are often “taught to not show emotion, not show excitement,” he says. “That’s the biggest thing that I’m trying to break through — not just in youth but in adults too. They need to know it’s okay, you can show emotion, you can show tears — it’s okay to hurt.” For Steven, the bush is “the safest place” to embody your full self.
Three Lake Babine youth sit around a campfire talking and laughing.
Steven’s dream is for the youth to build a hunting cabin on Babine Lake one day — “for youth, by youth.”
The full group of Lake Babine youth and hunters stand for a photo in front of a backdrop of trees and golden sunlight. One holds a coffee, one sits on the ground. They objectively look very cool.
Jordan says imparting language, skills and culture to the young people of the nation is integral. “These youth are our future,” he says. “They are our vital source of survival.”

Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta this spring. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Here’s the thing: we need 300 new members to join this month to meet our budget. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?
We’ve got big plans for 2024
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta this spring. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Here’s the thing: we need 300 new members to join this month to meet our budget. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?

The Narwhal’s reporters uncover energy stories that send shockwaves throughout Canada. But they can’t do it alone — we need to add 300 new members this month to meet our budget. Will you support crucial climate reporting that makes an impact?
Relentless.
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The Narwhal’s reporters uncover energy stories that send shockwaves throughout Canada. But they can’t do it alone — we need to add 300 new members this month to meet our budget. Will you support crucial climate reporting that makes an impact?