For a third year the NFF and REI are supporting this program that brings youth from the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (UKB) in Oklahoma to their ancestral homelands for several weeks of learning, service and exploration. This year, youth will be working on the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee. This unique experience provides the youth with an opportunity to learn about their ancestry and connect to nature while improving the National Forest through a series of restoration projects.
The UKB youth crew will restore wildlife habitat through removal of invasive species and planting of native plants, including river cane, a culturally important plant. The youth will do maintenance work on campgrounds and trails, including the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. They will also work with Forest archeologists to map cultural sites and gather information used to protect these resources and for future project planning purposes. This paid work experience also exposes the youth to potential career paths in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, teaches them valuable job and leadership skills, and helps instill a stewardship ethic and establish a deeper connection to nature.
The crew will also get the opportunity to explore and recreate on the Forest and visit and learn about other cultural sites. This project is a great example of how REI and the NFF are working to solve the disconnect many of today’s youth have from the natural world.