On a fall day in Saugeen First Nation, students were struggling with some more-challenging-than-usual planting conditions. After completing science workshops the day before at their school, these Grade 7 and 8 youth were excited to put their new knowledge to practice by planting a combination of 450 white spruce, white pine and white cedar trees at two sites near the Elders building and the Mino Bimaadsawim Health Centre.
The sites had been selected mutually by the community and Water First and were thought to be ideal. But when the shovels hit the dirt we quickly realized that we were going to be in for a challenge! With unexpectedly hard topsoil, the team’s productivity slowed down and fell far behind schedule. Luckily, students, teachers and community members persevered, and we were able to complete the work on our first location. Our second site, however, was a fifteen minute walk away and the clock was ticking.
Our plan for the second location was to plant a long white cedar hedge near a new residential development. We decided to try and complete the task despite the news that the school buses were already on their way to pick up the students.
We had only managed to plant about one third of the cedar saplings before the first bus arrived. A little dismayed, but still proud of their best efforts, we asked the youth to put down their shovels and convene for a short debrief. But a handful of motivated youth were determined to keep planting!
This group had shown particular skill and passion throughout the day, going so far as to naming their saplings and asking to plant more saplings. It was obvious that they were dedicated to finishing the project, so we let them continue to plant while speaking with the others. After the talk, students boarded the first bus and we waited on the second bus’ arrival.
As we waited, the determined youth continued planting. Others, who were at first sitting and watching, began to step in and help. After a short delay, the second bus arrived, but not before the final sapling of the cedar hedge was planted! It was clear, these youth were not completing the work to impress us. They saw the value in seeing a project finished, and found satisfaction in taking part in meaningful restoration action for their community.
We see examples like this across our work, and it reinforces the meaningfulness of our approach. Getting youth out on the land is essential to their understanding of the human impact on the environment and inspiring sustainable action.