First Nations youth will participate in a business camp

The free, three-day program will be conducted by 25 business people in beginners’ positions

While most students look forward to a welcome break from the weekend this Friday afternoon, certain Musqueam, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and Tsleil-Waututh Nation youth will be preparing to give their brains some extra exercise at a job-focused youth camp.

The traveling Bear’s Lair Youth Dream Camps program, which will open at the Chief Joe Mathias Center in West Vancouver, gives Indigenous youth between the ages of 11 and 17 a taste of entrepreneurial life.

The three-day event goes through all the steps of creating a business, from the early stages of creating a concept, giving a name and determining the target audience, to later tasks such as creating a marketing strategy and managing costs.

“It’s really inspiring, because a lot of the young people involved don’t know much about the business until they get into this,” said Tsetasiya (Geena Jackson), project manager.

“Learn how business works in today’s world, how to market yourself and how to really value our economy and economy through creating economies within your own communities – whether at the grassroots level or regional, national or global level.”

The initiative stemmed from Jackson’s 2022 TV show Bear’s denAnd Dragon’s Den and Aquarium for sharks-esque business pitching program, but with indigenous judges and indigenous contestants from around the country.

Jackson, of the Shíshálh Nation, had worked with the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) in various business development roles for more than a decade before that and had long wanted to make members of the wider community, young and old, aware that such business opportunities were available to them.

In contrast to the work-focused world of reality TV, Jackson said her show is built around a “kind, uplifting” environment, and the youth programming, which has already taken root in Ontario, Vancouver Island and the Fraser Valley, is made in in the same spirit.

The youth camps also culminate in a pitching session, where students talk about creating their business concept through five-minute, pre-recorded videos. On the fourth day, the graduation ceremony welcomes family and friends to watch the students’ presentations, an event that often leaves parents “in awe,” Jackson said.

“The management is proud and the kids are so proud of what they have achieved.”

More than just newfound business acumen, students come away with enhanced skills in areas such as public speaking, team building and the ability to accept constructive criticism, she said. And if the next generation of Jim Pattisons want to move on to the business world after their camp experience, Jackson assures there is plenty in the way of aftercare and support to ensure they can do it right.

“We’re always available for contact, we’ll have reunions with the graduating class and we’ll really follow them on their journeys.”

Jackson hopes that the next time he brings the program to West Vancouver, the students will be at a stage where they can take on the role of leader or mentor for the next generation.

“These young people will be the leaders of tomorrow, whether they run for leadership and advisory positions, whether they go to a business administration program for higher education or decide to become entrepreneurs in their own territory,” she said.

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is an Indigenous and civic affairs reporter for the North Shore News. This rhythm of reporting was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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