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Beausoleil First Nation, also known as Chimnissing, is an Anishinabek community accessible by ferry in the south end of Georgian Bay. Tori is a Community Mentor who has been running Right To Play programming since 2013. Having a fully community-owned youth program in Beausoleil First Nation has been one of Tori’s long-term visions, and she took big steps toward it this summer. Through gaining more support from the Beausoleil First Nation (BFN) Education Department and new partners to share the work, Tori helped to spearhead a new land-based Geography credit program called “Reach Ahead”. Along with Right To Play and BFN Education, Tori worked with the Simcoe County District School Board, Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and Water First to develop and run an innovative program for students to gain a high school credit while connecting with their culture through land-based programs.

Tori was a key part of the program planning with the team and drew on her years of experience to help guide the selection of relevant learning opportunities and ways to set the program up for success with youth in Beausoleil. She also developed and led most of the leadership, teambuilding and life skills activities as her specialty which helped to build stronger connections between youth and also with their community. Tori described the vision for the program as addressing “every part of the holistic being – each student is always set up for success.”

"We wanted youth to own the program and be like, guess what? I had so much fun this summer, these are the things that we’ve learned.” - Tori, Community Mentor

It has been an incredible experience for youth in Beausoleil, learning about the science behind water sampling, soil testing, identifying bugs and trees, and complementing it with Traditional Indigenous knowledge, including fishing and trapping. Other life skills and recreation activities included kayaking, swimming, first aid certification, and cultural connections such as ribbon skirt making and teachings for use in community ceremonies, which included a water walk led by the youth at their local beach. Tori with help from the team of partners has been able to engage experts and guest speakers, predominantly from Beausoleil itself, to come speak to the students and connect them to different elements of their identity and surroundings

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“We bring in our own experts so the kids can learn from our own community members,” says Tori. She notes that roughly 75% of guest speakers are from their community, allowing students to connect and learn about the land, but also to help them “develop relationships with different cousins and friends that they didn’t know they had.”

Alongside the students, who are the primary focus of the program, Tori has been able to collaborate more outside of her department for this project. Nancy Assance, the Education Director for BFN also had a team of four youth involved which included two post-secondary and two senior highschool students who supported the beach sampling, wind station monitoring and other key activities. The aim is for these youth to eventually deliver the program themselves, which is part of the holistic and sustainable program design.

While “every kid has growth,” Tori wants to note that one student in particular has really risen above expectations and made incredible strides throughout her experience there: "She hasn’t shied away from anything, giving 100% in the schoolwork, making new friends and developing healthy relationships here, which only benefits her in the long run. It’s really cool to see her blossom in like, eight weeks - that’s nothing!"

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As the program wound down for the summer, Tori had the students create their own marketing materials to help showcase the learnings from program, ensuring they were in charge of what they wanted to tell people. “We got them to create posters or a video about the program itself, and what they would advertise to future students in the program. We wanted youth to own the program and be like, guess what? I had so much fun this summer, these are the things that we’ve learned.”

Looking toward the coming year, Tori hopes to see more students involved in the Youth Leadership Program she runs during the school year and is advocating for growth into a larger space within Beausoleil. She’s encouraging youth from the summer to continue building their connections within the community, and to transition into more youth leadership roles through a new stream of their YLP called “Enhancing Our Leadership”. Plans are already in motion to continue and grow the summer Reach Ahead program and allow youth to build even stronger connections within their community as young leaders.