Yukon First Nations Wildfire (YFNW) was awarded more than $1 million for their Resilience Training and Healing Program at the Arctic Inspiration Awards in Ottawa on Wednesday night.
“It is amazing, it’s amazing to even be nominated,” Chad Thomas, CEO of YFNW and team leader of this project, told the Star early this afternoon.
“We’ve learned so much more about the awards, being down here, and how some people perceive it as the Nobel Peace Prize of the North.”
The program is a response to challenges northern firefighters face, including mental illness, addiction and suicide.
“I think it’ll benefit us all greatly, when you think about how it’ll strengthen our core group of first responders in the Yukon,” Thomas said.
The program was granted an Arctic Inspiration Prize of $410,000.
They received an additional prize of $622,000 from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency. Both awards were announced on Wednesday night.
The program will include two components: resilience training and healing programming.
The resilience training “will take a boot-camp style approach to independence-readiness,” in the context of the “Beat the Heat” program.
This component includes working with banks, credit counselling services, investment advisors and financial advisors.
It will ensure that all candidates establish bank accounts and understand how to use and manage credit, establish savings, and understand the importance of investing.
Working with a financial advisor will help candidates establish budgets and healthy spending habits.
In addition to this financial advisory component, firefighters will work with elders and leaders to “foster healthy lifestyle choices and decision making.”
The healing program component will function similarly to an employee assistance program. It will offer free, specialized support services to members of YFNW.
These services will include access to mental health, addiction and probation counselling services, as well as to traditional land-based healing.
Thomas said the program aims to permanently shift firefighting culture.
“Right now there’s a type of attitude, where firefighters are scared to seek help and they get involved with addiction issues,” Thomas said.
“You can’t battle addiction, trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder with alcohol and drugs.”
The programming combines Western-style therapy with traditional healing. It was important for Thomas to provide a wide breadth of programming.
“I believe everybody learns differently, trauma hits everybody differently,” he said.
Thomas and other members of YFNW have spent the remainder of the week meeting with officials in Ottawa.
When they return to the Yukon, Thomas said, he is looking forward to fostering a partnership with the Yukon government to further support programming.
YFNW was one of eight teams to receive awards in Ottawa. The total prize money allocated was $2.6 million. Two Yukon teams were awarded funding.
The second prize winner was the Yukon Youth Healthcare Summit in the Youth category, led by Geri-Lee Buyck.
The Yukon Youth Healthcare Summit aims to increase Indigenous representation in post-secondary education, particularly in the field of health care.
The program will offer Indigenous youth the opportunity to participate in a series of multi-day summits in partnership with Whitehorse General Hospital. It aims to expose youth to role models in the health care profession.
The summit received $90,000.
The largest prize of the evening was claimed by Northern Compass, a program aiming to create “culturally relevant pathways from high school through post-secondary education” in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, said an Arctic Inspiration Prize press release.
The roster of support programming provided by Northern Compass will include trained coaches, accessible resources, on-campus programming and a network of role models and volunteers.
Northern Compass claimed an award of $1 million.
There were five other prize winners on Wednesday night:
Dehcho: River Journeys was awarded $370,000 for a multi-media project exploring the transformation of the Mackenzie River in the last century.
The Kamajiit program was awarded $450,000 for programming that will address the root causes of high school drop-out rates and suicide in three Nunavut communities.
The Nunavut Law Program was awarded $140,000 to provide localized legal education to Nunavummiut.
In the Youth category, The Baffin Outdoor Education Project and Trades of Tradition were awarded up to $100,000 each.
The former will provide skills development and cultural awareness via traditional activities on Baffin Island, starting with a focus on dog sledding.
The latter will teach youth traditional skills like hunting, sewing, drum-making and drumming.
The Arctic Inspiration Prize is in its eighth year of awarding funds to innovative northern groups. The prize is owned and governed by the northern-led AIP Charitable Trust and supported by Indigenous organizations, governments, industry, philanthropy and other partners. Management support is provided by the Rideai Hall Foundation.