Today we resume our ‘Made on Haida Gwaii’ series, highlighting the accomplishments of young people who call the islands on the Pacific coast home. On Saturday, Haida Gwaii was rocked by a 7.7 magnitude earthquake, the strongest registered in Canada in over half a century. Fortunately, there were no fatalities or major injuries reported.
This is the eighth installment of the ‘Made on Haida Gwaii’ feature series, by writer April Diamond Dutheil. Twice a month, we showcase the story of a talented young person who calls Haida Gwaii home. In this vast country, our major urban centres tend to soak up most of the attention. This collection of success stories, about young people living on these beautiful but remote islands off the Pacific coast, aims to disrupt the dominant myths of what it means to grow up in Canada’s North.
This is the answer Kiefer Collison gives when asked about his biggest accomplishment. He goes on to explain: “Surviving expectations of disgruntled family members, and drunks, and what you’re expected to become. When I was in high school I guarantee you that my teachers didn’t think that I would turn out like this.”
Self-described as an awful student and a hellraiser, Kiefer Collison is now a youth worker, early career filmmaker and an emerging community leader from Old Massett.
With the shutdown of the teen centre, recreation centre and arcade — services that he enjoyed as a youth — Kiefer found himself organizing sports to fill the time. “Six days a week we were playing soccer ’cause these kids had nothing to do,” he says. Kiefer points to undeniable holes in youth services today, “There’s this generational gap where these kids are used to having nothing.”
To do more for youth he applied for the position of Youth Worker and was asked to submit three letters of recommendation. Unknowingly, letters of support endorsing Kiefer trickled in from the community. The hiring committee received a total of 17 letters. “I was a shoe-in, I guess,” says Kiefer.
Along with a small team of youth advocates, Kiefer has been working to start-up Old Massett’s new teen centre, an impressive space designed intentionally to be youth-functional while housing an aged Haida totem pole. Plans for the centre include a social enterprise gift shop, a recording studio and a cultural room where youth have a “one-stop-shop” access to cultural resources, such as food gathering equipment.
Kiefer says being employed as a youth worker allows him to invest more time into the community, doing projects that would otherwise be volunteer. His intentions for this work are transparent and make sense, “This is my home. This is it. I want to make it as nice as it can be,” he says.
This role hasn’t been one-directional for Kiefer. Instead it has challenged him to make intentional choices about how to live his life. “This job has really cut into my partying career,” says Kiefer. “And yeah, I guess I can thank them for that because I’d rather be here with them.”
“I’m just trying to help [youth] out, guide them, there are so many bad influences out there and so much crap that is socially acceptable in this town,” says Kiefer, who is aware of the obstacles that reduce his impact as a youth worker.
Reminiscing about his childhood on Haida Gwaii, Kiefer describes it as nothing short of amazing. Similar to many young people from here, his summers, weekends and after school time was spent fishing, camping, hiking and journeying off island.
“When I was younger I thought that’s all it was, I was going to live in the city and do something there,” he says. “I’m sure that’s the same view of 90 per cent of the kids here. You don’t realize what you’ve got until it’s gone.”
After high school, Kiefer moved to Kelowna, but was later recruited back to Haida Gwaii for a filmmaking opportunity.
Filmmaking from the young age of 15, Kiefer has developed strong abilities at the pre and post-production stages, and has already assisted with a number of short films on the topics of racism, Haida language, Elders’ knowledge, historical community events, and the controversial Enbridge pipeline project. His dream is to make filmmaking a full-time career.
“Man, I love [Haida Gwaii], I can’t not be here, so it’s definitely home,” he says. “But it would be nice to go to school, bring resources back to teach kids more and show them that there are possibilities on the island.”
April Diamond Dutheil is a social advocate, entrepreneur, scholar and researcher of northern and Arctic issues, one of Canada’s Top 20 Under Twenty and a recipient of the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies’ Northern Resident Research Award. April is committed to strengthening knowledge and understanding of the social issues facing Canada’s North. You can follow @ProjectGwaii on Twitter.
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