UNBC student Sarah Dixon was honoured this past fall to have been selected as one of three recipients from across the country to receive a 2022 Skills Award for Indigenous Youth from the Forest Products Association of Canada and the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers.

For Dixon, the award represents another sign that her heritage and culture are intertwining with her work experience and education, as she walks the path she’s meant to travel.

The 22-year-old Bachelor of Arts student is from the Esk’etemc First Nation, within the Secwépemc Nation, and grew up in the communities of Esk’et (Alkali Lake) and Williams Lake.

Secwepemc from her mother’s side and Nisga’a from her father’s side, Dixon says, “Growing up, I’ve always been immersed in the culture of the hunting, the fishing, the preserving of meat and fish, the berry picking in the springtime down by the river and slowly learning Shuswap.

“My mom made sure we had an understanding of who we were and that we were rooted in our culture. And when I was in high school, my aunt introduced me to our hereditary system - we are one of the first communities within our nation bringing back our hereditary system.”

It was when the Esk’etemc declared title and rights over their traditional territory in May of 2017 that Dixon began to see a need for advocacy for Indigenous treaty rights and policy change. “I was able to witness the declaration, I was always part of meetings involving chiefs within our whole nation and I basically began asking them to protect the land and water until I came of age to take over.”

When her mother passed away unexpectedly the following spring, Dixon’s sister and aunt encouraged the then-17-year-old to pursue her developing interest in natural resources by applying to the Outland Youth Employment Program (OYEP), based in Prince George. The national program works with local communities and partners to provide high school-aged Indigenous youth with land-based training, skills and work opportunities in the summer.

It was while on a campus tour with OYEP that the seeds were first planted for pursuing her post-secondary studies at UNBC. Dixon is majoring in First Nations Studies, with double minors in Political Science and History. After two years as an OYEP Ranger and one summer as a Crew Leader in Training, she continues to be involved with the program, sitting on its Youth Council and, most recently, hosting an information booth at the BC Natural Resources Forum in Prince George in January.

Dixon is also participating in a Forest Products Association of Canada project called Forestry for the Future which aims to amplify the stories of those furthering sustainability in the forest industry.

While the UNBC undergraduate student is not yet certain of her career trajectory, her experiences are shaping her path, “I’m hoping when I’m finished that I will work within the natural resources field. I feel deeply connected to my traditional lands, community and culture and I like working with people and want to make and build better relationships.”

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