Youth as Indicator Species
The social fabric of Canada is changing: urban migration, a rapidly aging population, more people with disabilities, increased immigration and ethnic diversity, and a growing awareness of aboriginal issues and values are just some of the emerging threads in our cultural cloth. This new weave is an exciting opportunity to enrich the tapestry of federal, territorial, and provincial parks with bold and diverse new perspectives and approaches to conservation and stewardship, recreation and connection, diversity and inclusion.
In imagining an inclusive parks system 30 years from now, members of the Canadian Parks Council Youth Engagement Working Group (YEWG) pictured those people engaged in parks reflecting the diversity of Canadian society. We envisioned a culture of engagement able to adapt and evolve to the changing ways that people interact with the natural world. We predicted an increased role for parks in establishing lifelong relationships with the natural world and a social value shift towards environmental literacy. This bright future for parks begins with youth today.
There is much to gain and nothing to lose by equipping Canadian youth to discover (or re-discover) our parks. Dissociation from the outdoors or just simple barriers prohibit many youth from learning about natural or cultural values, but their participation will help create new understandings and reveal new stories. Older employees are aging and retiring, but today’s youth will be called to continue the legacy and manage our treasured natural areas with passion and integrity. Canadians are seeking more balanced, healthy, and active lifestyles, and youth are leading many outdoor recreation and adventure experiences that foster physical and mental health. Finally, many Canadians are overwhelmed with environmental threats, but youth are ready to become active stewards in protecting nature and the landscapes that are so important for sustaining life.
More fundamentally, youth are an indicator species. They reflect the state of the relationship between park agencies and the communities that make up Canadian society. Canadian youth move quickly through stages and transitions as they become more independent, and they cross all backgrounds, cultures, abilities, economics, belief systems, ethnicities, and interests.
The work of the Canadian Parks Council working group, the research team, and the youth advisory panel is about empowering and involving youth as collaborators, and about listening to their voices as we create a more relevant and sustainable park system across Canada. Thanks to everyone who contributed to this report, especially the youth who shared their voices