Island program teaches kids to hunt and fish ‘like the PROS’

Wikwemikong Tourism marketing and product development co-ordinator Dustin Peltier poses with Brayden Wabano’s perch catch.

MANITOULIN – A new partnership between Wiikwemkoong Tourism, Wiikwemkoong Anglers and Fuel the Fire TV aims to teach young people all they need to know to ‘Hunt/Fish like the PROS’ and its first two ice fishing activities so far this year have proven a hit with the participants.

“It’s an Indigenous-led program for youth just to teach them about conservation, proper hunting and fishing ethics, guided by Anishinaabe values,” said Wikwemikong Tourism manager Luke Wassegijig.

The ‘PROS’ part of the name is an acronym, representing the principles of practicing sustainable harvesting, respecting fish and wildlife habitat, only harvesting what one needs and safety.

“The kids love it. They love to be outdoors and we wish we could have taken more kids but because of COVID, we’re limited to 10. There definitely is a growing interest,” said Mr. Wassegijig.

There are several sponsors involved in the campaign, including Manitoulin Streams Improvement Association, Ramakko’s, Bob Izumi’s Real Fishing Show and Fishy Fishy Bang Bang.

This partnership has already hosted two events so far this season, both centred upon ice fishing.

“We did the first one in M’Chigeeng with 10 youth from Wiikwemkoong that came out for a morning of fishing with Neil Debassige from Fuel the Fire TV. We taught them about the importance of protecting fish habitat, why it’s important to do that, and then went out for a morning of fishing on Lake Mindemoya,” Mr. Wassegijig said, noting that one of the youths caught a speckled trout, a “once in a lifetime” rare fish for that lake.

“Over the course of the year, what we want to do is several programs, seminars, events and land-based programs that will teach about our inherent responsibility of stewardship, and also the fundamentals of hunting and recreational sport fishing,” Mr. Wassegijig said.

One of the program’s goals is to have a slate of five youth PROS and have them featured on Mr. Debassige’s Fuel The Fire TV show. Noah Manitowabi Pelletier and Ethan Flamand are the first two to join those ranks.

“I’m excited. I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for not only outdoor enthusiasts but for education,” said Mr. Debassige, himself a long-time teacher, school principal and education consultant. “It’s based on this notion of allowing learning and education to happen in a way that we’re not pigeon-holing kids into what the traditional institution of schooling is about. We’re allowing them to find their voice and chase their passions.”

Mr. Debassige added that having youth serving as the faces of this program can help in the education process by allowing kids to see themselves in the topics they’re learning about.

“For the ambassadors we’re selecting, we’re going to give them experiences that are going to be very unique and promote the program, but also be that role model for their peers to emulate,” he said, noting that the number of ambassadors will stay limited to ensure each participant can access enough mentorship.

The program has hit a few snags in terms of scheduling; pandemic restrictions put a pause to all community programming in Wiikwemkoong for a few weeks and the recent warm spell has caused interruptions to ice fishing plans. The two events for this year took place on February 10 and March 3.

There will also be opportunities for youths to get hands-on experience in conservation and land stewardship initiatives through Manitoulin Streams and the Wiikwemkoong Department of Lands and Natural Resources.

“We’ll have some stream education in the spring with Manitoulin Streams, and clean-up as well. Our goal is to have the youth taking part in some of these initiatives,” said Mr. Wassegijig.

Mr. Debassige praised the work of Manitoulin Streams and Little Current Fish and Game Club, particularly retiring president Bill Strain, for bringing land-based learning to all Island students.

“They brought the connection not only to the land but to an understanding that individually, we can make a difference, but collectively we can make change. I think this PROS program through Wiky Tourism is after that; they’re after the next seven generations of promoting that concept that you can make a difference,” he said.

Mr. Debassige added that Fuel the Fire TV will be exploring new formats in the coming year, embracing more of a social media and online distribution presence than a traditional linear television model.

The PROS ambassadors will be part of the show’s sixth season, estimated for release in mid-to-late 2022. The fifth season is slated to go to air in late summer this year.

Mr. Wassegijijg said this initiative began from his personal passion for the outdoors, as well as his agency’s work organizing fishing derbies such as the Manitoulin Ice Showdown, a partnership with this newspaper.

“It’s important that we teach about our inherent responsibility of conservation and how it ties into things like derbies and hunting. The way we see it, it is part of our responsibility to protect our resources,” he said. 

More information about the program is posted at the Wikwemikong Tourism Facebook page.