Yukon First Nations Wildfire leader 'very moved, very humbled' by $1M funding boost

It was a big enough deal to win an Arctic Inspiration Prize — but that was just the start.

Yukon First Nations Wildfire ended up leaving the Arctic Inspiration Prize ceremony this week with more than $1 million in new funding — $410,000 from the prize, plus an additional $622,000 from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor).

"I was very taken aback, very moved, very humbled that you know, we're getting that support," said Chad Thomas, team leader with Yukon First Nations Wildfire.

The organization trains and hires Yukoners to be initial attack crew firefighters. In the spring, it recruits new members for a "Beat the Heat" training course.

"We've had some amazing successes, proving ourselves over the past couple years that you know, we are a strong force and a very proud firefighting force in the Yukon Territory that's ready to respond to any natural disaster that could happen," Thomas said.

Mike Rudyk CBC

The Arctic Inspiration Prize money is for the organization's Resilience Training and Healing Program, to create preventative and healing programs among youth and wildland firefighters.

Thomas said firefighting is tough for some people to cope with.

"Sometimes addiction issues, and sometimes mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress, and other things. And we just really wanted to create a program where we can strengthen our group of firefighters," Thomas said.

Thomas said the goal is to create a program that incorporates traditional Indigenous healing methods, along with other approaches to therapy. Ideally, it would be available to firefighters in the immediate wake of a traumatic incident.

"We want to be able to handle those situations right away and not leave room for [firefighters] to kind of stray away," Thomas said.

"We want to create a family, not just a workforce."

The CanNor funding, meanwhile, can go towards equipment and materials, and improving business and project management capacity.

Thomas said the organization will be looking to recruit more members this spring. He wants to go to Yukon's communities to talk to local governments as well as school and students, to get the word out.

"This is a viable way to make a living, as well as it's an amazing opportunity for folks to get some amazing training and some amazing work experience," he said.