Finding His Passion: Jayden’s Story
Growing Up in Remote British Columbia
Jayden, 17, walks through the spectacular landscapes of the Rocky Mountains snapping photographs. He spends at least an hour every day taking photographs, and even more time on weekends editing them, but just a few years ago, he never would have even thought about it as an option.
Jayden’s band, the Lower Similkameen Indian Band (LSIB) has lived on the banks of the Similkameen River for thousands of years. Since the 1950s, the band has suffered economic and environmental harm from a de-commissioned dam downstream that prevents salmon migration from reaching them, making pursuing traditional livelihoods from fishing more difficult.
While the community has remained strong in the face of these challenges, it’s difficult for young people looking to make their own future to find it in a small, spread-out community with few options for work. The nearest town has less than one thousand people, and homes in the LSIB reservation are spread out, making it difficult to socialize if you’re too young to drive. Isolation makes it hard to form connections with people outside a person’s immediate family.
“I was more close-minded. I worried a lot. We don’t really live near other people where I live,” Jayden says. “When we go outside our community, it can be lonely and we can be shy.”
Right To Play partnered with the Lower Similkameen Indian Band in 2011 to launch a local branch of the PLAY (Promoting Life-skills in Aboriginal Youth) program in their community. Jayden’s father was one of the first facilitators for the program. Jayden joined PLAY when he was 12 and kept on with the program as it grew over the years. When he was a child in the program, the focus was on games like dodgeball, anti-bullying games, and other activities that would help him get his energy out and build his confidence. He was a shy boy, but the lessons from those games stuck with him.
“All the fond memories go a long way, into adulthood. How to be a team player, how to stand up for yourself, they’re lessons and that go a long way in your life,” he says.
“YOU HOLD ONTO ALL OF THE THINGS YOU LEARNED FROM THE PROGRAM INTO ADULTHOOD, LIKE HOW TO BE A TEAM PLAYER AND HOW TO STAND UP FOR YOURSELF. THEY’RE LESSONS THAT GO A LONG WAY IN YOUR LIFE.”
Then, when he was 14, Jayden discovered photography.
His sister had gone to a PLAY session on photography about a year beforehand, and she started showing him some of the photographs she had been taking. She stirred his interest in trying it himself, and he signed up for the session the next time it ran. The instructor ran him through the basics of taking photographs and encouraged him to learn more about things like editing photographs.
“Looking back two years ago, honestly, I hated photography. I just thought, ‘Why would I take a picture?’ But then we had lessons and now I’m very passionate about it,” he says.
Jayden and his sister developed a sibling rivalry over taking pictures, competing to see who could outdo the other, and suddenly he found himself in love with the hobby. Soon, he was spending an hour or two every day taking photographs, and on the weekends, he’d spend his free time learning everything he could.
“I’ve been teaching myself on YouTube, taking and sharing lots of pictures, and just trying to improve my skills in photography,” he says.
After a few months, both he and sister were invited to contribute to an exhibition that youth who had participated in the photography session were staging. “It was my first time doing something like that and at first it was nerve-wracking, but ultimately it was fun to plan and set up for the exhibition. I’m proud to have sold four of my photos.”
“I’ve become more of myself, more me, and proud of who I am.”
Jayden’s success with the exhibition led to his neighbours offering him work as a photographer. The band hired him to take photographs of their youth leadership trips, and a nearby town asked him to document the creation of a new mural. One of the community mentors in the PLAY program encouraged him to submit his work to a local gallery. He also began posting his photographs to Instagram to build his portfolio.
Jayden is saving up the money he makes from photography to buy more and better equipment as time goes on, moving from taking quick shots on his cellphone to a professional camera.
As his skill and passion for photography have grown, so has his confidence in himself and his openness to further new experiences.
“Through the program, I’ve gotten to meet more people and hear a new way of thinking. I have become more open-minded and down to earth. And I’ve become more of myself, more me, and proud of who I am,” he says.
Finding His Future
Jayden has continued to be involved with the PLAY program in LSIB. In 2018 and 2019, he attended the annual PLAY West Symposium, where Indigenous youth from across British Columbia and Alberta gathered together to share ideas, play games, and learn new skills. Since returning, he’s been mentoring younger kids in his community, using the confidence and skills he’s learned to help them unlock their potential in turn. “I’m trying to plant the seed, giving my ideas to other people and letting them come up with their own,” he says.
“I'm trying to plant the seed by giving my ideas to other people and letting them come up with their own.”
Next year, he hopes to go to college to become a park ranger. His father was a park ranger before becoming a youth worker on the reservation, and Jayden wants to follow in his footsteps. He’s proud of how PLAY has helped him grow confident enough to pursue his dreams and wants others to get the same chance.
“The PLAY program lets youth discover what they’re good at and gives them a chance to learn something new. It’s like telling the youth ‘Hey, you can do this, you can pursue this,’” he says.