MOLOLLA, Ore. — On a cloudy morning in early May, Bureau of Land Management staff joined students from the Chemawa Indian School on a trail maintenance project as part of the Indian Youth Service Corps initiative. The meeting was about much more than the project at hand.
The BLM and the State of Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission are working together through the Western Oregon Tribal Youth Project Cooperative Agreement.
The goal? To hire Native youth to conduct conservation projects that are mutually beneficial to BLM and to Tribes. Together, the BLM and the State of Oregon have offered a total of $100,000 for youth projects in western Oregon.
AntFarm Youth Services coordinated the trail project and oversaw the youth crew. They brought together the BLM, students from the Chemawa Indian School, and a young adult leader from the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs. The IYSC is a partnership-based initiative that provides Native youth hands-on experience in land management, training in basic employment skills, and pay for their community-focused stewardship work.
Maya Fuller is the BLM State Lead for Youth, Education, and Volunteer Programs. She is available to speak with members of the media about BLM participation in the Indian Youth Service Corps initiative and the project at the Molalla River Trail System.
Throughout the spring, the youth crew worked after school and on weekends. They improved and maintained campgrounds; picnic sites; and hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails within the Molalla River Trail System.
Earning money was a key motivator, but there were other benefits.
“I feel grounded in nature,” said one participant.
“We all have each other’s backs,” said another.
Two Foxes Singing (Nunpa), AntFarm Executive Director, emphasized the importance of the work. “The openness, sharing and discovery that takes place working with youth on meaningful projects helps us all learn and heal together,” he said. “We’re helping to form new relationships between indigenous people and the federal government. We’re all caring for our lands, together.”
The workday started out dry, but by lunchtime raindrops were coming down. Each participant put on their bright yellow raingear and got ready to continue working.
Their crew leader D.J. spoke highly of the crew. “They keep a positive attitude and are serious workers. We can get the job done in all kinds of weather.”
Aaron Curtis, BLM Assistant Deputy State Director, talked to the participants about safety. They were quick to point out the risks of working outdoors, but they also noted important safety measures. One student pointed to the broken branches in the trees overhead and explained that they wore hard hats and stopped work if the wind picked up. Their crew leader starts each day with a tailgate safety discussion, a group warm-up stretch, and a Land Acknowledgment. All participants are equipped with Personal Protective Equipment, training, and direct supervision.
“I get a great sense of energy coming out of these visits with young people who are engaged through work-based learning,” said Jeremy Ahola, State of Oregon HECC. “I hope we all can take away that there is still more work to be done, and yet, we can be grateful for our efforts in sharing a brighter future.”
The youth crew participants were enthusiastic to continue the work. They plan to present at an upcoming school assembly to share about their project and encourage their peers to come work, learn, and be curious out in the forest along with them.
Through the IYSC initiative, Indigenous young people are building connections, learning practical skills, and gaining an interest in natural resource careers. The BLM is strengthening relationships with sovereign Tribal nations and taking better care of for our land together.
— Bureau of Land Management