As a police officer delivering programs in schools designed to build reliance and drug resistance, Cst. Peter Batt of the Port Alberni Detachment saw a gap in his message to children who'd been exposed to drugs on a consistent basis or had encountered other barriers in their lives.
With considerable experience in the outdoors from an early age, Batt says that learning basic survival skills can help children become more resilient, and eventually, more successful.
So Batt is making it his mission to ensure that local youth learn to access these primitive survival skills to succeed not only in the outdoors, but also in life, regardless of any situation they find themselves in.
Passing along experiences
His father, who was also a Mountie, often took him out into the bush and taught him the valuable skills he needed to take care of himself in the great outdoors.
His fascination with survival training led the younger Batt into the Cubs and Boy Scouts as a young lad, and as an adult, he continued as a leader. In 1990, this interest led him to join the Colchester County Ground Search and Rescue Squad in his home province of Nova Scotia.
In May 2013, Bamfield Community School asked Batt to attend a cultural field trip with their students to Diana Island, B.C., for three days. He was also asked to teach the students safe knife use and campfire lighting.
He quickly saw how lessons like these not only connected him as a uniformed police officer with youth, but could fill the gap that other school/police programs didn't cover. In 2014, Batt brought his knowledge of the outdoors to the youth in his community with the creation of a mentorship-based community program called Survival Kids.
"As a teenager, I spent a lot of time in the bush, learning about the land and building survival skills, and I found that it helped me build resilience and confidence in all aspects of my life," says Batt. "I want to pass that same experience along to the youth in my community."
The program teaches young people basic outdoor survival skills by using natural resources — as much as is practical — to reinforce a connection with the land. The lessons are challenging and fun and involve activities that build self-worth, confidence, resilience, and perhaps most importantly, they demonstrate how an individual can control the outcome of challenging situations.
In one lesson, youth learn how to prepare for an outdoor activity by telling someone where they're going and when they'll be back and how to remain in one place should they get lost or disoriented in the woods.
They're also taught basic first aid skills that will help them if they or someone they know are injured in the wilderness. They learn how to build shelters and campfires and how to obtain food and water safely. Finally, they're taught how to use tools to prepare food, shelters and fires safely and efficiently.
Lessons last a lifetime
As a member of the Port Alberni First Nations Community Policing Unit, Batt first introduced the pilot for his program last March on the Tseshaht First Nation. Eleven students aged eight to 12 years old participated. The program was an instant success.
"I believe it's better for our youth to meet the local RCMP officers outside of their policing roles and duties. This helps to build trust and mutual respect," says Tyrone Marshall, the Tseshaht First Nation Sports & Recreation co-ordinator. "The skills these children learned will last a lifetime and I'm certain they'll never forget who helped them learn along the way."
In September 2014, at the E Division Aboriginal Policing Conference in Chilliwack, B.C., Batt was recognized for his contributions to the Aboriginal Policing Program with the prestigious Award of Distinction.
A number of detachments have contacted him as they try to implement similar mentorship programs. And Batt has plans for introducing this program into the middle schools in the area.
"This program teaches the common skills our ancestors all had to possess in order to survive long ago, and I hope to ensure that a good segment of our youngsters realize the importance of maintaining these skills in the modern age," says Batt.
Reprinted with permission from the Pony Express (No. 3, 2015).