Cops fish for youth drug prevention

Nanaimo RCMP lure First Nations youth toward good life decisions with fishing program

Police in Nanaimo hope to lure kids away from drugs and alcohol with fishing trips.

Cpl. Jake Ryan, head of Nanaimo RCMP’s First Nation Policing Unit, was casting around for ideas to draw at-risk Snuneymuxw First Nation youth into drug and alcohol prevention education, but knew advertising an RCMP drug lecture just wouldn’t work.

Figuring learning should be fun, Ryan hooked onto the idea of fishing trips as a way to lure kids in.

“We were looking for a fun way to try and get drug and alcohol education messages and provincial messages across,” Ryan said. “So we looked to this venue and it worked really well because the kids really wanted to be there.”

The first excursion launched June 3 with six children, three RCMP members and a First Nation fishery guardian, but the program took months to get afloat. It had to be coordinated with the Snuneymuxw First Nation and the program needed a boat and fishing gear.

Harbour Chandler donated $500 worth of life vests for the children and Wholesale Sports chipped in with discounts on fishing tackle. Newcastle Island provides a 40-foot aluminum skiff for the trips and First Nation fishery guardians who help the children with their fishing skills and cultural education.

The excursions take out six children per trip and police try to focus on children ages 8-16.

“This is the age demographic that kids normally look towards trying drugs, trying alcohol, so we try to get our mentorship in at the same time to give that opposing help and assistance to deal with what’s troubling them in their lives,” Ryan said.

The police act as mentors and who the children can confide in about troubles at home, school and other areas of their lives. Those talks are opportunities for the officers to help steer kids in the right direction.

Officers also keep an eye out for children who appear to need professional help and guidance from First Nations health centres and counsellors.

“It’s more mentorship than formalized education,” Ryan said.

A lot of the work is to improve the relations with police officers, to break down old cultural and historic barriers, and cast the RCMP in the role of people who can be trusted to help when children and their families when they find themselves in difficult times and situations.

“It gives us an opportunity to build relationships and mentor the kids towards positive lifestyles and encourage them towards schooling and career goals – things like that,” Ryan said.

Any fish the kids catch are sent home with them so the families can cook them up for dinner.

Several large rock cod were landed in the boat off the north side of Gabriola Island on last week’s fishing trip.

William Yoachim, a Snuneymuxw First Nation councillor and executive director of Kwumut Lelum Child and Family Services, said he sees the program as a foundation for building a positive relationship with the RCMP that will lead to future projects.

“There’s a need for the RCMP, of course, but also First Nations and RCMP haven’t had the greatest history in the past, so it’s about relationship-building and it’s also about community-building and I couldn’t think of a more appropriate initiative than for our youth to go out there fishing in our back yard,” Yoachim said. “It’s brilliant and I lift up my hands for Jake for promoting and getting this rolling – and the youth director and the youth of Snuneymuxw for participating in such a wonderful project.”

The excursions happen every Thursday until school starts in September.