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When Gabriel Shepherd took a flight on one of his neighbour’s three-wheeled propeller planes, he was immediately hooked.

"I love just going off in the air," said Shepherd, who is of Métis descent. "I love the relaxed feeling of when you’re cruising along 5,000, 10,000 feet up in the air and just being able to look out and be like, ‘Wow, I can see everything from up there.’"

Shepherd,13, was one of dozens of Indigenous youth from around the Lower Mainland who gathered at Boundary Bay Airport in Delta, B.C. Saturday to learn more about the world of aviation.

Give Them Wings

The young people toured different planes parked in the hangars, took control of the cockpit in a flight simulator, and even took a 15-minute flight in a Cessna 172, a small four-seat, single-engine plane.

The event, hosted by Give Them Wings, aims to introduce Indigenous youth to the possibility of a career in the aviation sector. It’s an initiative of the new Indigenous-founded Iskwew Air , which will offer small charter flights to remote communities.

The event comes at a time when Canada is facing a pilot shortage that has caused regional carriers to cancel flights and raised concerns about less experienced pilots being placed in the cockpit.

"A big part of this day is really about inspiring people," said Jacqueline Nadrazsky, manager of the initiative. "To inform and connect [Indigenous youth] to the world of aviation, and what that journey looks like to become a pilot." CBC News Several Indigenous professionals working in various positions in the aviation sector, including a pilot from Air Canada’s Jazz Air, spoke about their experience working in the industry.

"When indigenous youth can come together as a collective and have that space to dream of something that isn’t a traditional career … it’s inspiring," said Nadrazsky.

Remote communities

Nadrazsky grew up in Bella Bella, a remote Heiltsuk community on Campbell Island, which is only accessible by plane and ferry. She hopes that increasing the number of Indigenous pilots will help remote communities become better connected.

"Programs such as this would really help those communities gain access to the rest of the province and the rest of the country as well as essential services," said Zadrazsky.

If Shepherd gets his way, he’ll be one of those pilots.

"I would never want to fly a huge large jumbo jet," said Shepherd. "I would rather be a pilot for a small airline like a Iskwew airlines."

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