Lieutenant Tolerton with one of the Ravens at the Yellow Wolf Pow Wow where she was about to dance in the competition.
8 August 2011
A Winston Churchill Fellowship has enabled Navy Lieutenant Mason Tolerton to travel to Canada to observe indigenous youth programmes and compare them to those run in New Zealand by the Defence Force.
LT Tolerton, from Christchurch, currently works as a Limited Service Volunteer (LSV) Platoon Commander for the Youth Development Unit South (YDUS), at Burnham Military Camp.
The former Christ’s College student, who is married with two children, joined the Royal NZ Navy in 2000 training as a Bridge Watch Keeper, although his interest has always been working with youth.
LT Tolerton says, “I hoped that one day I could align my studies at University in the social sciences with an output that would benefit the Defence Force and feel that I have found this in the YDU.
“Seeing young people from a diverse range of backgrounds excel and move into gainful employment, job training or further education, enabling them to contribute effectively to their community, is very rewarding.”
While in Canada LT Tolerton has spent time looking at the Raven and Bold Eagle programmes run through the Canadian Military.
“The purpose of the visit is to see if anything can be learned from the Canadian programmes that would enhance opportunities for young people, particularly Maori, Pacifica and other minority groups, attending the LSV and other youth development courses run by the Defence Force.”
The first part of his trip was spent at a culture camp in a wilderness training area where the young people learnt traditional values and customs from Elders, built a sweat lodge and participated in a local pow wow.
“The camp was regularly visited at night by bears no doubt interested in the deer which frequently ran through the camp grounds and occasionally into the tents!”
The culture camp was followed by more formal training at the main base in Victoria where the young people learnt basic military skills as well as attending classes about drug and alcohol risk, suicide awareness, first aid, and environmental protection.
“From my discussions with many First Nation leaders I have found that the programmes are very well supported by the communities. One tribal leader told me: ‘we send away teenagers with all the accompanying issues, and six weeks later get back young men and women who can lead their communities.’”
LT Tolerton is now spending time at the Canadian Forces base Wainwright on the prairies, observing the Bold Eagle programme, which has been running for 21 years.
“So far the trip has been incredibly productive. I am very grateful to the Winston Churchill Fellowship and both the NZDF and the Canadian Forces for this opportunity to further enhance a training programme that I believe gets positive results for young New Zealanders. Seeing a similar programme at work in Canada and succeeding is further vindication in my mind as to the benefits of Youth Development work conducted in partnership between the military, government agencies and interested community groups.”