Brandon Aboriginal Youth Activity Centre
Brandon Friendship Centre

Project Summary

The staff and volunteers of the Brandon Aboriginal Youth Activity Centre have made some changes over the past year. All changes were made to better the life of urban aboriginal youth. All these changes were made with the help of the Youth Council, youth focus groups, parents and community elders. Activities and programs that the youth participants recommended included; sports tournaments, tutoring, Aboriginal cultural teachings, Aboriginal Identity, and dance lessons (traditional and contemporary). One important recommendation that the youth put forward was many of them wanted us to start an Aboriginal Language Program.

Our youth program tries to help youth with four main areas. These areas include Aboriginal Culture, Personal Development, Recreation and Social and Health activities. We try to teach our youth about personal growth through the Medicine Wheel teachings. Through these teachings they learn that they are connected to everything and when they practice positive things in their lives such as staying in school and abstaining from alcohol and drugs then therefore their actions will affect their families and communities in a healthy positive way. Our goal is to help the youth in every aspect of their lives. We try to make leaders of them all by giving them the opportunity to democratically govern how we deliver the program as well as what the program should offer.

Through the Youth Council meetings and youth focus group sessions the youth participants have gained valuable leadership skills. Also their self-confidence and self-esteem blossomed and matured to a more healthy and consistent level. Whenever a position becomes vacant in the Youth Centre we try to always encourage the youth from our centre to apply. We try to mentor the youth and teach them skills so they can eventually become employees of the Youth Centre. Youth learn to speak up for themselves and learn to see their lives in a more positive way and many of them are either staying in school or attempting to continue on into College or University.

Main Component of Project

Aboriginal Culture and Traditional teachings are very important and are always taught to the youth by all staff members. Some of the Traditional Elders that we network with emphasize the importance of learning about the Seven Sacred teachings and so us staff try to incorporate these teachings into our personal lives as well as the youth centre. We as Youth Workers all have different ways of teaching Respect, Love, Honesty, Truth, Wisdom, Bravery and Humility. As staff, we work together to make sure that the youth receive these teachings through hiking, crafts, medicine picking, fishing, story telling, feasting, talking, playing, counseling, praying and ceremonies. We seek assistance from Elders and other community members to help us teach the youth about Aboriginal Culture and Traditions.

The Culture aspect of the program has been in some ways on an individual basis, meaning some youth may request to learn and participate in a certain ceremony while others may only want to learn traditional dancing or singing. It all depends on the youth and what they feel they need to learn. Many of the youth want to learn their traditional language which the Elders feel will help them understand the culture a lot more since they will be able to understand Aboriginal thought through the teaching of these ancient languages. Once our language program is implemented it will be scheduled on our monthly calendar on a regular basis.

Project Activities

Cultural Activities: Our cultural component will consist of activities that the youth are interested in learning and participating in. We will network with Traditional Elders and other community members that are knowledgeable in various aspects of Aboriginal Traditions and Culture. We will develop and organize mini aboriginal cultural camps four times a year, which will give the youth an opportunity to camp with the staff and traditional elders. Here they will have time to immerse in the culture and at the same time use these camps as a kind of youth retreat which will give the time they may need to rejuvenate themselves from their everyday stresses that youth of today maybe experiencing. These mini camps will build on each other and prepare them for our weeklong annual aboriginal culture camp, which is held every summer. Our other activities throughout the year will include Aboriginal language classes, Traditional Dancing and Singing, Teachings on Gender Roles, Feasts, Aboriginal Identity, Aboriginal Spirituality and Ceremonies.

Education-Personal Development: The Brandon Aboriginal Youth Activity Centre in the past has partnered up with the Brandon School Division. Through this partnership we were able to develop an in-School Suspension Program, which allows students that are suspended, to have the option to come down to our youth centre to do their school work between the hours of 9:00am- 3:30pm.This allows At risk youth to feel more supported and may prevent some youth from giving up on their education and eventually dropping out. Also we are in the process of starting up a WebCT program in our Drop-In centre. This program is were youth that have or are having some struggles in the regular school system may have an option of doing some of their course work on the Internet. The Brandon School Division has donated twelve computers to our centre specifically for this purpose. This program should be well on its way by this November 2006.

Sports and Recreation: Our sports and recreation component will consist of activities that the youth are interested in. Our centre is committed to developing partnerships that enhance access and participation of aboriginal youth in sports and recreational activities. During the winter months we partner up with the city of Brandon’s Community Services Department and Youth For Christ. Together we were successful in obtaining funds from the Lighthouses project, which allows us to hire older youth to assist us in supervising gym nights as well as assisting us with organizing sporting events such as floor hockey and Pool tournaments. Some of the sports that we offer throughout the year include hockey, basketball, soccer, swimming, pool league, gym nights and bowling.

We are currently working on a partnership with the City of Brandon and the Brandon School Division to offer weekly gym nights to the Aboriginal Senior High School Students. We will have our current staff attend the gym night with the youth from BAYAC and they will be on hand to help supervise the night activities.

Social and Health Programs: The social and health component of our project consists of weekly workshops that are facilitated by various agencies and programs that we network with. Some of the planned monthly workshops will be conducted by: Sexual Education Resource Centre, Public Health, Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, Native Addictions Council of Manitoba, Adolescent Youth Treatment Centre and the Friendship Centres Health Programs.

Native Addictions Council of Manitoba conducted a Youth Drug and Alcohol Workshop for us during our summer Cultural Camp. They use the Medicine Wheel teachings when explaining Alcohol and Drug Addiction and Recovery. Through work shops like this one the youth learns about dangerous lifestyles and is encouraged to make healthy choices as well as live in a good way in every aspect of life. Many of the traditional ceremonies that the youth are familiar with explain how to practice a healthy way of life as well as explain to them what is healthy and what is not.

Social Activities: There are many social events that are planned with the youth that are for people there own age as well as the community at large. Dances are very popular with the youth at our centre. They partake in Halloween dances as well as traditional dances such as round dances and square dances. We usually get many youth and parents out to these events. Also our youth drop-in centre is a social event all on its own. The youth and staff encourage friendly interaction and new youth are met with a warm welcome and the drop-in on a nightly basis becomes a warm, safe environment for all youth and parents. The staff, volunteers and youth become like a family and we strive to function like a healthy community. Other activities that the youth request include movie theatre nights, Tim Horton’s Coffee nights and cooking nights.

Youth Leadership: Leadership is very important and we hope to see all youth become their own person. Through our youth council-advisory committee we hope that the youth have the opportunity to learn important life skills, which will not only help themselves but other youth and family members as well. For example the youth practice public speaking during youth council-advisory committee meetings. Also during cultural activities such as sharing circles they become more confident in their speaking and learn to articulate their feelings, beliefs and ideas with other people.

Community Involvement: Throughout our entire program the concept of interconnectedness is emphasized. It is emphasized through the traditional teachings that “we are all related” and so everything that we do has an impact on our families and communities as a whole. We tried to show the youth during our culture camp the importance of community involvement. They had the opportunity to observe that everyone out at camp had a job and no one person was more important than the other. We all communicated with each other and a sense of acceptance, love and balance was there. There are many older youth that come down to volunteer at our centre and help us supervise the younger youth. They seem to understand that it takes a whole community to raise a child, which shows them how to have compassion and respect for themselves and everyone around them.

Anticipated Results

We try to offer the youth everything a human being needs in order to live a healthy successful life. Through the components of our project we hope that the youth will have a greater holistic sense of themselves. This opportunity was denied to their relatives that had to attend residential school. Once these young Aboriginal Youth regain a healthy identity we feel that there self-esteem and self confidence will grow. The BAYAC staff and volunteers have witnessed these occurrences with many of the youth that have participated in our Youth centres programs and activities.

The youth will see things in a new light, they will gain self-respect and they will come to realize that their ancestors history, traditions, languages, philosophies and culture has value and they as aboriginal people have value too. For example we could see that many of the youth had changed their attitudes towards aboriginal culture. During the opening ceremonies of our third annual culture camp many of them did not partake in the smoking of the sacred pipe. After the week was over most youth participated in the smoking the pipe during the closing ceremony and they did it proudly and respectfully. We also observed this with some of the staff and volunteers as well. We are happy to express that we all learnt about the importance of community involvement and we hope that these teachings will spread out to the Brandon and surrounding community.

Our life skills program will run on a daily basis and the focus of this program is to help those youth that are having trouble in the regular school system. We offer these youth the chance to attend school here, with the permission of their teachers and parents, and to work on the assignments that are sent over from the school. Most of the time here is spent doing work but there is also free time for the youth to play pool, go on the Internet, watch TV or listen to music. These are earned privileges by the youth and if they have not worked on homework then the free time is lost. We want these youth to graduate so by offering them an alternative school setting we feel is the best solution for them.

The Youth develop leadership skills by volunteering to mentor the younger children and youth, participating in fundraising activities where they learn counting skills and communication skills. They also participate in the Youth Council where they learn how a meeting runs and the rules of order that nee to be followed.

We also teach the youth about living healthy lifestyles free from alcohol and drugs. By way of workshops we are able to offer them information on practicing safe sex and we also provide condoms as needed.