Canoeing program for Métis youth creating friendships along the Red River

Métis youth found out how challenging paddling the Red River is during a series of canoeing excursions along the historic trade route this week.

New program focuses on stewardship and cultural connection

This week was the first time that Grade 9 student Niko Yanez-Ramos had been in a canoe. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

Métis youth found out how challenging paddling the Red River is during a series of canoeing excursions along the historic trade route this week.

Morgan Ginther said it was difficult paddling against the wind on Tuesday. 

"We got blown like a 45 degree angle to the river and we couldn't turn so that we can move forward again," she said.

Ginther was one of a dozen youth who signed up for Métis Environmental Leaders of Tomorrow (MELT), an environmental stewardship program run by the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF).

WATCH Métis youth canoe historic Red River:

Métis youth canoe historic Red River

6 months ago
Duration 1:49
Youth in the Métis Environmental Leaders of Tomorrow program canoed along the Red River about 20 kilometres a day and participated in land-based activities. 1:49

The five-day program started in Winnipeg on Monday. The youth canoe along the Red River about 20 kilometres a day and have land-based activities.

That includes stops at historic sites like Lower Fort Garry, where Treaty 1 was signed 150 years ago, and sites of  significance to Métis. At Selkirk Park, they met MMF elders and watched a jigging display, and at Lake Winnipeg, they spend the day fishing.

Ginther, who performs at many of the Métis events in Selkirk, Man., played the fiddle alongside her family members during the Selkirk stop on Tuesday.

Morgan Ginther (centre) is a Grade 10 student in Selkirk, Man. She played the fiddle beside her dad during the canoe trek lunch break on Tuesday. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

"It's nice to know that there's people like me that I can hang out with and be friends with," said Ginther.

For Niko Yanez-Ramos and many of the participants, it was their first time canoeing.

"I was a little scared because I didn't really know what to do, but I caught on really fast, so it was awesome," said Yanez-Ramos after a three-hour journey on the water.

"It's been really great. You know, it's such a good workout. It's fun. The water is amazing."

Participants of the MELT program have been doing close to 20 kilometres of paddling every day. The program includes land based and cultural activities as well. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

Reconnecting to the land

The MELT program is focused on creating environmental leaders and will be working with Métis youth from kindergarten to Grade 12.

Program director Amber Chambers said that it's important to get Métis youth reconnected to the land.

"We need to focus more on going back to those traditional land management techniques, and learning the traditional knowledge that is passed down from elders to new generations," said Chambers.

For the canoeing excursion, MELT partnered with Indigenous-led non-profit organization Waterways, which runs paddling programs for Indigenous youth.

James Lavallée (right) is an accomplished canoe and kayak athlete who has been leading this week's canoe journey for Métis youth. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

"Canoeing is uniquely Indigenous and it's our own and it's something that we share amongst a lot of peoples," said Waterways co-founder James Lavallée, who is Métis.  

"It's a great vehicle to be connected to culture, to language, to harvesting. And there's so many different ways that you could do that. But that really all connects us back to our identity." 

Lavallée, who won three kayak medals for Team Manitoba at the 2017 Canada Summer Games, said it was a "dream come true" to paddle with Métis youth on the Red River.


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1