In response to a high unemployment rate coupled with low literacy, the Upper Skeena Development Centre created the Senden Holistic Youth Program that helps youth gain the confidence and life skills needed to become successful adults. With guidance and support from many local partners, a local advisory composed of elders, traditional knowledge keepers and service providers, and funding from the United Way of Northern BC, Senden programs build skills, knowledge and confidence for youth.
This program is unique in that in takes a holistic approach to youth development by focusing on connection – a connection to self, others and the land. By engaging youth and their families in gathering and growing food, and exploring traditional and modern teachings, the program cultivates personal and community well-being. Senden’s summer program runs from May to September and youth aged 17-26 come to the historic farmhouse three days a week to learn how to plant, grow, rotate and harvest food in the large garden and greenhouse. Come July, the youth sell produce in a weekly market and help package fresh food boxes that are purchased by the community.
Gitxsan Land and Culture Advisor Sally Lavallee said, “We also teach them to harvest food from the territory. Because of poverty, they don’t get to go to the territory to harvest so these skills have been lost. Just recently, we picked rose petals and root cambium and talked about their nutritional value. We talk about the medicinal value of plants. We teach them how to use the whole salmon, how to smoke salmon and make jerky.”
“We also focus on other aspects of their health,” Lavallee said. “We teach them how to meditate and visualize. While we’re sitting at the river, we ask them to imagine their ancestors pulling cedar. What does it smell like? What are the elders doing? What are they talking about – are they telling jokes? It’s important to connect with our ancestry, regardless of what it is.”
If youth struggle with literacy, they are connected with a tutor. During the program, youth are given a taste of what Northwest Community College (NWCC) has to offer. After completing the program last fall, four Senden youth participants registered with NWCC, Hazelton Campus, to begin upgrading their skills.
“The Senden program cultivates learning, sharing, caring and growing and encourages youth to cultivate healthy relationships with their peer group, families and the greater community” said Christine Anonuevo, Executive Director at Upper Skeena Centre Development.