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Why Inmates at this Canadian Jail Are Learning Outdoor Survival Skills

Residents of a correctional complex in far northern Canada receive a unique kind of inmate education—one with a uniquely Canadian twist. Instead of learning to sew or shelve library books, they’re taught to hunt and skin wild game.

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Inmates of the North Slave Correctional Complex in Yellowknife, Canada, have recently been taking a hunting and trapping class as part of the facility’s ongoing outdoor education program. The program teaches everything from primitive shelter-building and survival techniques, to how to plan a backcountry trip.

The outdoor education has been well received by many inmates, the majority of whom are Indigenous, reports APT News. (The high rates of Indigenous incarceration are often attributed to historic inequities. Many First Nations peoples experience systemic discrimination in Canada and beyond, which has led to inequalities in the justice system.) One inmate, Roy Inuktalik, told APT News that he found the outdoor program to be empowering. He also appreciates having an opportunity to practice his existing skills. Before he was incarcerated, Inuktalik relied on hunting and trapping to feed his family and bring in income from the fur trade. As an Indigenous person, these traditional practices have been a part of his life since he was a young child.

Yellowknife, Canada. Image by Kenny So/Getty

While it’s pretty unique to find this kind of program in a jail, outdoor survival courses are common in other institutions. Many colleges and universities offer backcountry survival courses as part of their new-student programming. Some businesses use survival courses or retreats as team-bonding outings.

There’s a good reason for all of this. Research shows that outdoor survival courses can boost self-esteem and feelings of confidence and self-sufficiency. They can also teach leadership and stewardship skills and instill a sense of purpose. All these lessons are important for incarcerated individuals getting ready to re-enter the workforce.

The North Slave Correctional Complex program was first launched about a year ago. It’s currently funded by the complex and administered by a revolving door of expert instructors, many of whom have been hunting and trapping for decades. Their goal is to help empower their students—and make the proud outdoor traditions of the Northwest Territories accessible to everyone.

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