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Engaging Aboriginal Youth

Engaging Aboriginal Youth

"Take a Hike is a full-time alternative education program that engages at-risk youth through a unique combination of adventure-based learning, academics, therapy, and community involvement." [1] Ken Farrish, BC Building Info, and Farrish Marketing Services, spent many years as a volunteer with the Take a Hike program and came away with some very useful insights on engaging youth, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal.


Can you tell us about your experiences as a volunteer with Take a Hike program - what you personally gained from your time with the organization?

I realized as a parent, and as a volunteer for 17 years with Scouts Canada and 10 years with the Take a Hike Program, that I can learn more from youth than from any other sector of our society.

One of the biggest lessons I learned was to just be real because youth can see through the mask better than adults can. They can tell when you are real and safe and whether they can open up to you. I learned a lot about working with adults from volunteering with youth. I like to say it was my “Advanced Management Training”.

I was invited by an Elder, the grandmother of one of our graduates, to attend the graduation celebration for this young fellow, at the Musqueam Indian Band. I didn’t realize the significance at the time but wow, it was gold for me. It was so insightful to see how the Elders were respected and how important community is for Aboriginal youth. It was such an honour to be invited and welcomed to share that moment with the community.

One thing I know for sure from time spent with Aboriginal youth is that non-Aboriginal people have no comprehension of what we can learn from Aboriginal Peoples.

What have you learned about engaging Aboriginal youth?

  • Be yourself; be real because they can spot imposters
  • Be able to tell a joke, take a joke and not take yourself too seriously
  • Treat them equitably
  • Hold them able and responsible
  • Answer all questions as honestly as possible within the context of the situation to develop trust and openness
  • Don’t pry into their affairs…….if they trust you they will bring it forward
  • But also show an interest in them, their goals, dreams
  • Be prepared to be astounded by their deep level of thinking and insight

What doesn't work?

  • Don’t be patronizing
  • Don’t suck up; don’t try to be their buddy
  • Avoid shallow questions – show your insight and interest via meaningful questions
  • Don’t order them to do something – say something like “hey, could you do me a favour” instead of “do this”

What 5 suggestions do you have for Human Resource managers who are interested in hiring and retaining Aboriginal youth?

  1. Make sure employees, and this goes for all employees, understand the boundaries upfront and that they will be held accountable if they cross them.
  2. Understand the community culture and that some community events hold precedence over going to work. Create an agreement in which management is advised if the employee was going to be absent and why.
  3. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – understand the background some kids come from - have empathy and compassion for them and what their reality is.
  4. “Time is treated like a loose blanket” is an expression that I keep from Healing Drum by Black Wolf Jones. Understand that timeliness is viewed differently by some Aboriginal people but you can work with that if you let Aboriginal workers know that if they are late it affects the entire team and that if there is a task that has to be done that day, then that task still needs to be completed.
  5. Tune into their strengths and visions – ask them what they like to do, what they are good at, and see if you can find a way to help them expand on those strengths and activities.

[1] Take a Hike Foundation website

To build on Ken's tips on what not to do or say, here's a free eBook with 23 more tips:


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