The Tłı̨chǫ Įmbè Program is a multi-award winning program that has been running in the Tłı̨chǫ region since 2011. It has reached over 280 Tłı̨chǫ youth and provided employment for several Elders and community members. The purpose of the program is to provide post-secondary students the opportunity to gain work experience in their home communities while gaining cultural and safety skills and contributing to their communities.
Įmbè, meaning “summer” in the Tłı̨chǫ language, was chosen as the program name because the program runs in the summer months between June and August each year.
Addressing a need
The Tłı̨chǫ are guided by the idea that, in order to be successful in a post-contact world, Tłı̨chǫ people need to be “strong like two people”. That is to say that young people should be open to learning about, and be able to participate fully in the modern society, while at the same time retaining and nurturing a strong grounding in their traditional knowledge, culture and language. For many young people who left their communities to pursue post-secondary education, the inability to return to their home communities during the summer due to lack of employment, meant that they were missing out on the events, people, language, stories, cultural practices and time spent on the land that kept their cultural identity strong. They were in essence spending all of their time learning to be strong like one person to the detriment of the other. With this as a backdrop, the Įmbè program was designed to address both the need for summer youth employment and the need for cultural reconnection for post-secondary students each summer.
The six-week Įmbè program packs in a huge amount of cultural learning in just six weeks. Traditional skills are taught by local Elders and have included: sewing and beading, drum and paddle making, hide tanning, fishing and making dry fish, gathering traditional medicine, stories and legends, language learning, and many more. Additionally, each Įmbè group spends one of the six weeks on the land in a camp setting with Elders and outdoor experts learning about safely travelling, living and working on the land using skills and knowledge passed down for millennia.
Throughout the Įmbè program, participants are given training in various outdoor disciplines. Participants are certified in First Aid, Canoe Safety, Firearm Safety, Predator Defense and GPS navigation. It is a goal of the program to foster cultural curiosity in the young people who participate. These trainings are not a substitute for the knowledge of Elders, but they can help young people explore their land more safely when Elders are not available.
Another important part of the Įmbè Program is its focus on community service. Every summer, Įmbè Program groups plan and carry out Community Service Projects. The idea behind including this component in the program is that everyone has within them the power to effect positive change in their communities. The Įmbè Program groups tour their communities and collectively decide how they can improve their community. Together they make a plan, organize supports in the community and carry out their projects. Community service projects have included: playground revitalization, litter pick up, waterfront clean up, Elder appreciation events, graffiti removal and even a letter writing campaign petitioning for extending the hours of operation of a community day care.
Leadership and longevity
Each year groups of six program participants are hired. For every group of six participants, the program hires one team leader. In the smaller Tłı̨chǫ communities the program has one group of six participant each year with one team leader. In Behchokǫ̀, the largest of the Tłı̨chǫ communities, demand for the program has become so great that in 2018, the program expanded to work with three groups. Whenever possible, participants from the previous years are hired for the team leader positions the following year. There are also two program management positions, the program manager and the assistant manager. Former team leaders are asked to apply for the assistant manager job each year. 2018 was the first year that all staff positions were filled by previous program participants. The program manager in 2018 was herself a participant in 2011 and held every other staff position before becoming the manager. This is seen as a major accomplishment and is a source of program pride.
The Tłı̨chǫ Įmbè program began using pre/post participant surveys in 2012 to capture some of the impacts of the program and compile recommendations for future program plans. The surveys assess participants’ self-identified levels of cultural skills and knowledge, cultural identity, and self-esteem before and after the program. Evaluation clearly shows statistically significant increases among program participants in all of the above categories. Over the years, the surveys have also collected data about participants’ perceptions of their community, their perception of their ability to effect change, their aspirations for future employment and their hopes to stay in or leave their communities. At this time, no long term tracking has taken place but the data exists for interesting future research.
Recommendations from program participants have been consistent over the years. Overwhelmingly, participants indicate that they want to spend more time on the land and they want spend more time with Elders. The program itineraries and schedules have changed over the years to accommodate these recommendations and still young people want more. This demonstrates a thirst for cultural learning among young Tłı̨chǫ people. It shows the importance of cultural learning programs like the Tłı̨chǫ Įmbè Program and it shows that young Tłı̨chǫ people have hope for the future of their culture, they just need opportunities to learn.