A Nuxalk Nation youth hopes to one day pay it forward to his community after being afforded the opportunity to pursue his dream career.
Twenty-year-old Ezra Mecham, who graduated from Sir Alexander Mackenzie School in 2018 and was born and raised in the Bella Coola Valley, recently completed a two-year forestry program at Selkirk College in Castlegar and has returned home to the Nuxalk community to work in the field.
Prior to leaving the valley to earn his education, Mecham was awarded multiple scholarships and bursaries, including the Irving K. Barber Indigenous Award and the New Relationships Trust Foundation Bursary, along with becoming a sponsored student with the Nuxalk Nation.
“All of my education was paid for by the department of education through the band office and, for me, that meant all the financial stress was taken care of, and I’m forever grateful for that,” Mecham said.
“Growing up in a small community and on farms like I did, it was nice to go to a kind of smaller centre and learn from people who are respected professionals who were able to teach a country bumpkin like me how to live in the real world. I’d highly recommend that [forestry] program to anybody.”
In March of 2020, due to the evolving novel coronavirus situation, the latter part of Mecham’s course was called off. This meant roughly a month of field work planned for students was cancelled, much to his disappointment.
Mecham knew a career in forestry was something he wanted to pursue at the age of 16.
“The first time I was able to get my first, legitimate job I went out doing some surveying work in forestry with the community forest in Bella Coola and worked a few days out on the inlet doing some layout,” he said. “After that I was completely hooked. You’re out in nature, walking around, checking things out, observing and you get a better idea of what’s going on in the forest. That appealed to me and, from that point on, I knew I wanted to do something outside and something that could keep me healthy and forestry’s definitely one of those things.”
Now back living in the Bella Coola Valley, Mecham is working odd jobs here and there in the forest industry wherever he can, looking to get a foot in the door.
He’s currently starting work with a local logging contractor he said should keep him busy for the next two to three months.
Mecham said he’d highly encourage more First Nations youth to pursue a higher education as help is available to make it all possible.
“The funding available for First Nations students, I think, is overlooked in a lot of cases,” he said. “Being able to access this pool of money, specifically for First Nations people, really helped.
“I talk about it to anybody I can. I’ll tell any kid I meet. Find bursaries and, when you think about the time it takes to put a bursary application in, well you just made $2,000 in an hour.”
Mecham said he’d also like to pursue an opportunity to speak at local schools to talk about his experience with bursaries and funding available for First Nations youth.
“There are so many opportunities if you are willing to work for it,” he said.
“Within the valley it’s amazing how much work there is for a person that’s willing to work for it. You’ll hear a lot of people say there’s no work here but there is if you’re willing to do things. Once you establish yourself as a person willing to work it’s pretty easy to get work in this valley.”
Mecham said he’d like to give a special shout out to the ladies at the Nuxalk education office for doing an amazing job helping set him up, and also the Nuxalk Community Forest for helping him stay focused with work during the summer, out-of-class months.