WHITEHORSE, Yukon - Inching my way into the floating craft, careful not to
misstep, I inquired where the driest area was to shoot photographs and view
The answer provided was practical. "You might want to sit on that side of
the raft so if we flip you can get out," the helmsman urged, paddle in her
Nervously, I paid heed to her suggestion, clutching my camera bag with a
death-like vice grip.
"Nah, I'm just teasing. I always do that with first timers," she remarked
Comedy aside, the guide was all business when directing the raft down the
Yukon River during the evening's ride. Her commands were sharp to the rest
of the crew and the desired direction was the result.
Four water sessions earlier and it was Nicole who was the first-timer. With
a voice of authority and confidence, she explained how a raft is steered.
"Whichever way the current is going, you try to stick to that and you're
fine," the 14-year-old said.
The teenager has been a regular during the weekly canoe, kayak and rafting
sessions offered by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for at-risk
First Nations youth. One of the officers, Constable Eyvi Smith, coordinates
these informal classes and has viewed the rapid progress of his
"It's nothing for these kids to learn because they've always had to adapt
to survive," Smith said. "To see these guys out here doing this is
Now in its fourth year, this boating program frequently attracts up to a
dozen kids. As Smith volunteers his time, the police fund the activity by
providing the equipment, van and gasoline and when there are out of town
trips involved, food money for the kids.
There are about a half-dozen officers who participate on the water and
another 10 who assist during the winter snowboarding sessions. Smith said
any policing outfit could initiate a community program if there's already
an existing interest in an activity.
"You have to have members who have the passion. I'm happy to be on the
river and it gives me an excuse to be out here," the Constable said.
There have been some barriers broken down between the RCMP and the
teenagers. Even with these programs, there are some youth who still can't
shake the urge to break the law. Yet, when the cops encounter the kids, the
scene is calm as everyone is on a first-name basis.
Before entering the RCMP, Smith was a youth worker for four years in a
group home so he's seen several angles of the problems with troubled teens.
Should kids be arrested, he suggests probation should involve mandatory
participation in a supervised environment.
"Part of the conditions should be to take part in a sport because if you
can help a kid find their passion, alcohol and drugs all become second
place," he stated.
These meetings permit Smith to offer friendly advice about how there's
still time to turn their lives around. He's noticed when they're on the
water, there's an atmosphere of relaxation and instead of maintaining a
gangster-like toughness needed to survive on the streets. They can finally
have some fun without any social pressures.
Dan, 15, has been canoeing and snowboarding with the cops for two years
while admitting he's still "on their list." Sarcastically he joked the
reason these programs are there is "So they can tell their sergeant they're
doing something good."
He conceded that these activities were for his benefit and advised some of
his peers to attend.
Smith however saw the changes in Dan and believes he has the fundamentals
to apply those skills already learned towards becoming a river guide. There
have already been other examples of teenagers who were struggling and are
now leaders in tourism.