Tag Archives: Urban Youth

City of Vancouver – Directory of Aboriginal services and context

The City of Vancouver’s department of Social Planning has created a directory of Aboriginal resources entitled:  Aboriginal Inventory of Services and Context. The website helps city staff and Vancouverites develop an understanding of the activities and stakeholders relating to Aboriginal issues within Vancouver. The directory is intended to help Vancouverites make informed decisions about how the City can best support the Aboriginal community.

Each report (see partial list below) provides: a) relevant background on each topic b) a list of the organizations and communities involved with that topic  and c) info on partnerships, committees, trends, and gaps in services

Much of the research cited in the reports was conducted by locals and provides excellent information about Vancouver’s Indigenous communities that isn’t readily available anywhere else.  I found this site to be indispensable in writing my paper about Vancouver’s urban Aboriginal youth.  Here are some of the documents (of dozens) available on the site:

  • Coast Salish First Nations html PDF
  • Outreach and Engagement html PDF
  • Arts, Culture & Multimedia html PDF
  • Education html PDF
  • Elders html PDF
  • Two-Spirit / LGBTQ html PDF *Some Aboriginal people refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans-gendered people as Two-spirited.

Keep them coming back for more – Amy Parent

In 2009, now PhD student at UBC and video speaker from Module 2 of Etec 521, Amy Parent completed her Master’s thesis:  Keep them coming back for more: Urban Aboriginal Youth’s perceptions and experiences of Wholistic education in Vancouver.

The goal of the thesis was to gain insight into the experiences of Aboriginal youth who were participating in Aboriginal organizations in Vancouver.

Amy also published a community report that is available on the Vancouver based Urban Native Youth Association website.  This 8 page report summarizes the 196 page dissertation that she submitted and contains key findings and lessons learned from the youth.

In writing her thesis, Parent hoped that it would encourage development of a wholistic educational framework for Aboriginal youth which pursues the goal of transformative praxis by honouring Indigenous culture within a positive, empowering and generative contemporary urban context.  I’ve read both the report and the thesis and can tell you that her research was exhaustive, thought-provoking, and ground-breaking.

Of note, Parent add a fifth R (relationships) to the well-received Four R research framework put forward by Kirkness & Barnhardt (1991).  These authors argued that  research in Aboriginal communities should be reciprocal, relevant, responsible, and respectful.  For Parent, the fifth R allows her to maintain relational accountability to her family, clan (Nisga’a), and community.

I recommend the study for anyone who is looking for an extensive literature review of leading Indigenous research.  Additionally, Amy’s findings on urban Aboriginal youth are thoughtfully framed by an explanation of wholistic education that is second to none.  Finally, the commentary, stories, and interjections about her guide, the Raven, is worth the price of admission on its own.

Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study

Aboriginals are the fastest growing population in Canada.  The 2006 census revealed that there are half a million First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people living in Canadian cities and that over 50% of this population is under 25 year old.  Given the dramatic increase in urban populations, 60% of Canada’s Aboriginals now reside in urban settings, more research is sorely needed to understand how Aboriginals and Non-Aboriginals are relating in this atmosphere of rapidly changing demographics.

The Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study (UAPS) began to take shape when Michael Adams, founder and president of Environics Research Group and the non-profit Environics Institute, and Dr. David Newhouse, Chair of Indigenous Studies at Trent University, found themselves at a conference discussing social change among Canada’s Aboriginal groups.  In response to the startling information emerging from the 2006 census, Dr. Newhouse asked: “Does the average Canadian have any image of who these people are, how they relate to their cities, what they are contributing, or what their challenges are?”

The approach being suggested by Dr. Newhouse differs from earlier studies that focused research on social-services being utilized by Aboriginal populations.  That research tended to view Aboriginal communities through the lens of some problem or need— without the needed complexity to generate meaningful understandings of urban Aboriginal groups.

Hence the UAPS was born.  The Study has been funded by the government of Canada, the governments of various provinces, some private organizations, Elections Canada, and the United Way.   The goal of the UAPS was to gone beyond the numbers and capture the values, experiences and aspirations of Aboriginal peoples living in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax and Ottawa. 2,614 First Nations peoples, Métis and Inuit living in these major Canadian cities, as well as 2,501 non-Aboriginal Canadians were surveyed.

    Click here for the UAPS report summary, full report, or quick key findings from the study.  City findings are also available such as the  Vancouver City Report

      This research is useful for anyone looking for comprehensive information about the dynamic interaction between Non-Aboriginals and Aboriginals in Canada’s major cities.

      Decolonizing Our Schools

      Decolonizing Our Schools: Aboriginal Education in the Toronto District School Board

      Report presented: September 30, 2010.  Written by Aboriginal scholar Dr. Susan D. Dion, along with Krista Johnston and Dr. Carla Rice

      In this report, the authors describe the work of the Urban Aboriginal Education Pilot Project (UAEPP) in Toronto District schools (TDSB) between April 2009 and September, 2010. It’s interesting to note that the goal of the UAEPP is to deliver education that is “worthy of our children and our ancestors” in a large, diverse urban context.  Much of the report is based on the research findings of the Talking Stick Project.

      The research confirms what Aboriginal parents, students, and educators already knew: institutions of formal schooling are failing to provide Aboriginal students with the educational environment and experiences that they need to achieve success. Urban Aboriginal students face a number of unique problems – they are unable to find suitable connection with cultural knowledge and do not see themselves represented in the curriculum.  They are “encouraged to attend school in the spite of a long, negative, and hurtful relationship between Aboriginals and schooling.”  School employees in urban settings face unique challenges in first of all recognizing Aboriginal student populations and then delivering programs when FN students are dispersed across a range of schools.  Additionally, almost all educators lack the requisite knowledge and training for meaningfully teaching Aboriginal subject matter.

      After interviewing and studying approximately 200 students, parents, teachers, administrators, community members, and other stakeholders the following four key findings were generated:

      1. TDSB must recognize the importance of understanding and responding to Aboriginal students, youth, and their learning needs

      • reject narrow definition of learning and success in the form grades in favour of a focus on well-being

      2. Meaningful incorporation of Indigenous issues must be supported by providing thoughtful pro-d for teaching staff

      • educators need access to expertise and training to understand Aboriginal culture and appreciate their role “inheritors of a colonial legacy.”  This is part of the larger process of Decolonization and Indigenizing.  Teachers must be prepared to take on this challenge and must be supported in their attempts to do so.

      3. Schools must be transformed in order to Decolonize and Indigenize learning spaces

      • Aboriginal students and Aboriginal education thrive in safe environments

      4. Aboriginal Education must be supported at all levels and prioritized by establishing internal and external partnerships

      Some of the many other recommendations:

      • sustained funding is needed
      • Aboriginal teachers need to be recruited
      • Student well-being should be the center of educational approaches
      • Aboriginal history and culture, including the history of colonialism, should be taught at multiple points in curriculum
      • Board must require all principals to participate in decolonizing and indigenizing professional development
      • Board must require all departments to demonstrate a plan for integrating Aboriginal Education

      ———– Decolonizing our Schools is as powerful an educational research report as one will ever read. The authors pull no punches and directly challenge the stereotypes and misguided thinking of those who declare that Indigenous education should be compartmentalized or marginalized because Aboriginals are a minority in their classrooms/schools. This report reminds us that were all the products of a colonial legacy that has ravaged Indigenous practices.  In many ways, the report is a refreshing departure from the non-committal babble that emanates from school district research departments.  Of course, it has to be…the topic is simply too significant for any lesser approach.

      First Nations School of Toronto & Native Learning Centre Alternative High School

      Recently, the Vancouver School Board announced that it is moving forward with its plans for an Aboriginal-Focused School of Choice. This school is scheduled to open, at least partially, as early as September, 2012.  Interestingly, the school will be one of choice and be open to all students, although Aboriginal students may be given priority (more about the school in a future post).  Given this development, I thought it would be interesting to examine a couple of existing First Nations schools

      First Nations School of Toronto.  This school was initiated by a group of Aboriginal parents in the 1970’s who were concerned about the high numbers of FN children who were not completing elementary school.  The parents felt that the children lacked self respect and were significantly at risk.  They believed that education was key to teaching them about their Aboriginal heritage, and instilling pride for their identity. The initial school was called the “Wandering Spirit Survival School.”  After joining with the Toronto BOE, the school became the First Nations School. Today, it serves 70 students from JK- Grade – 8 and is located at Dundas and Broadview, sharing a site with public school.

      Some of the supports provided to students:

      • Half Time Librarian
      • Full Time Ojibway Teacher (in lieu of French), serving students from K-8
      • Half Time Traditions and Culture Instructor, serving students from Gr 1-8

      An Honour Feather Society was created to help build self-esteem. Individual students are recognized for their various successes, and awarded a feather in a traditional ceremony to honour their clan.

      Some interesting programs:

      • Diabetes Education Program (including parent component) with Toronto Public Health
      • Dodem Kanonhsa’ Aboriginal Cultural Facility: partnership to access Traditional Elders to support Literacy
      • Antibullying/Anti Gang Workshop

      Native Learning Centre Alternative High School (grades 9 – 12)

      In October 1998, the Native Learning Centre (NLC) was piloted as a high school program for at-risk First Nations students.  The NLC began with 15 to 20 students in a one-classroom setting, located at 456 Yonge Street.  The school includes an art program, recreational outdoor activities, traditional canoe trips, and cultural excursions led by elders.  The NLC has now expanded its programs and now is able to provide all compulsory credits necessary for students to achieve an Ontario Secondary School Diploma. In November 2005, the NLC received a City of Toronto Access Award (Equity).  The school is now housed within Church Street junior public school. Approximately 40 Native high school students currently attend.

      Native Studies courses available to NLC students:

      • “Aboriginal Beliefs, Values and Aspirations in Contemporary Society”
      • Aboriginal Governance: Emerging Directions
      • Aboriginal Peoples in Canada
      • Current Aboriginal Issues in Canada
      • English: Contemporary Aboriginal Voices
      • Issues of Indigenous Peoples in a Global Context

      This list of courses goes well beyond the First Nations 12 that is available to BC students and is indicative of a strong commitment towards Aboriginal education by the TSB.

      The vital relationship between Aboriginal Elders and Youth

      Video Link

      • In the time of change of mother earth,
      • there would be a group of young people born,
      • and those young people would carry all the gifts of ancestors,
      • the healers, the visionaries, the dreamers, the leaders,
      • they would bring spirituality into their work
      • and they would empower their work with that spirituality.

      Diane Longboat

      The above passage leads us into this video that documents the efforts by Native Child and Youth Family Services (NCYFS) of Toronto to connect urban youths with Ojibway, Cree, and Iroquois elders.

      What has remained constant among the many changes of the Macaw Hawk Youth Council in Toronto is a desire among members to learn about cultural traditions.

      Some of the Elders and staffers with NCYFS mention how difficult it was for them as urban Aboriginals to connect with their cultural teachings when living or growing up in Toronto.  NCYFS has attempted to address this shortfall through the construction of a lodge in the heart of urban Toronto.  Through the efforts of Elders and connections with culture, youth have described feeling more empowered and unified than at any point in their lives.

      The prevalent theme among interviewed youths is a desire to “know who they are.”  In urban settings, youth do not have the benefit community support from clans or families, and can become very isolated.  Once youth connect with Elders, it is felt that they are better able to identify who they are as brothers, sisters, and beneficiaries of a rich ancestry.

      The video provides an example of how far the urban Indigenous have come in re-connecting with traditions in a short period of time.  One of the NCYFS staffers, Alita Sauve, mentions that when she was growing up it was difficult for her to acknowledge to others that she was Indian.  Now she helps youth re-connect with authentic traditional practices in the heart of Toronto.

      RedWAY BC News


      RedWAY BC News is a free monthly on-line magazine.  It has been published since 2003 by Spiritlink Communications.

      According to the founder of RedWAY, Kristen Kozuback the mission of the publication is to build relationships based on respect and recognition and to celebrate the diversity of cultures, talents and strengths of Aboriginal people..

      Many of the recent efforts by RedWAY focus on ways youth can build media technology skills and develop the experience necessary to start careers or businesses as writers, editors, videographers, and photographers.  RedWAY‘s YouTube channel and video productions (made by youth) can be found here.

      Here are some of the regular sections from the magazine:

      • JPEN – Job Postings & Employment News
      • From the Streets and RHR: readers helping readers
      • Smoke Signals: a community announcements page
      • International Indigenous News: often self-governance items

      Readership Demographics:  most of the readers and contributors are Aboriginal youths who reside in British Columbia – 85% self-identify as Aboriginal; 80% live currently in BC; over 45% are under age 30; 70% have their own social networking site.

      Teaching Tip: In coordination with Spiritlink, RedWAY, and the First Nations School Net Program, 7 youths attended the 2008 Gathering our Voices Conference held in Victoria, May 17-20, 2008.  These youths were provided with hardware (laptops, cameras) + software + brainware (training) + spiritware (encouragement and empowerment) and the result was a significant ‘earning and learning’ experience.

      Adele Alexander commented on her reflection the conference in a holistic way.  Her posts describe the influence the conference had on her:

      • intellectually
      • emotionally
      • physically
      • spiritually

      I found this to be a very interesting way of having students look back at an experience. It transcends the mere ‘lessons learned’ and gets into a more authentic reflection of any experience.  Researchers looking into innovative, grassroots efforts to empower Aboriginal youth through media should definitely take a look at RedWAY.

      Weblogs & Research interest – 21st century urban Aboriginal youth

      Canadian Aboriginal groups are experiencing rapid demographic change.  Presently, approximately 60% of Canada’s Native People reside in urban settings, and 60% of the overall Aboriginal population is under the age of 25 (UNYA, 2011).

      These demographic trends pose a distinct opportunity and challenge.  Aboriginal youth are in a unique position to steer future directions in cultural preservation and development.  My research interest is to determine how urban Native youths, particularly those who reside in Metropolitan Vancouver, have responded to life in a city setting, and to see if this provides any insights as to how Aboriginal identity will evolve in a 21st century landscape that is characterized by rapid technological change.

      Specifically, my weblogs focus on the following questions:

      • What currently shapes Aboriginal identity?  Is Native identity still rooted in references to geography, linguistics, and colonialism or has the notion of identity evolved?
      • How are urban Native youths responding to the challenge of defining themselves and being authentic in the realm of two sometimes competing cultures?
      • There is now great socioeconomic and cultural diversity in Native communities. Has there been accommodation for this growing heterogeneity in programming for urban Aboriginal youth?  Are urban Native youth still being treated as a problem?
      • Are Aboriginal educational efforts effective in helping Native youth to preserve cultural knowledge and build a sense of identity?  Is technology helping or hindering this process?

      Urban Native Youth Association. (2011).  A brief history of UNYA.  Retrieved from  http://www.unya.bc.ca/about-us

      híwus First Nations Cultural Program at Grouse Mountain

      híwus First Nations Cultural Program


      I have taken three groups of students, including Aboriginal youths, to this Education program that is available at Grouse Mountain for a fee.  At the feasthouse (Longhouse) up at Grouse that has been built for this experience, students hear legends, learn some Squamish words, sing songs with Squamish sayings, and of course dance.  The highlight of the day for the students is watching their teachers dance in characters such as Killer Whales and Wolves.  There are videos of our staff doing these dances that make the Elaine dance on Seinfeld look downright respectable.

      The elder, Kwel-a-a-nexw (goes by Eddy as I recall) does a great job of orienting students to the ways of the Squamish.  The experience feels authentic, but overly rehearsed. After having experienced it three times, I now know what to expect.  What’s interesting is the time spent recounting the history and practices of the Squamish and other First Nations tribes that occupied the West Coast.

      The walk to the feasthouse is done on snowshoes in the winter and this adds to the excitement of students.  Unfortunately, the snowshoes are made of aluminum, so the snowshoeing experience is not exactly true to the original.

      In the full day experience, Aboriginal cuisine is served and some craftwork is done.  My students have only visited for the one hour tour, as part of a trip to the mountain, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

      The website for this program contains tons of useful information and links to British Columbia Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLO’s).

      I am not sure what to make of this experience.  As you can see from the website, the program is exceptionally well organized and planned down to the finest detail.  I am just not sure if Aboriginal ancestors intended for Longhouse experiences to be so orchestrated.  For some, the site may be useful as evidence of the commodification of First Nations culture.

      Urban Native Youth Association

      Urban Native Youth Association 

      UNYA is a non-profit society that operates out of 1618 East Hastings Street in Vancouver.  It is one of the few organizations dedicated to servicing urban aboriginal youth.

      The organization was founded in 1988 when it became evident that many young Aboriginals were leaving reserves and setting out for life in the big city with few job skills, training, education, or insights as how to seek help.

      Like other sources, this organization is quick to mention the rapidly growing impact of Aboriginal youth on Canadian demographics.  They state that “approximately 60% of the Native population lives in urban settings, and 60% of the overall Native population is under the age of 25.”

      The challenges of youth who may be detached from their traditional language, spirituality, guidance, support structures, and practices is significant.  UNYA helps Aboriginal youth living in metro Vancouver to maintain some of these connections in a variety of ways and helps young people address some of the really harmful practices that teens can get themselves into.

      Here are a few UNYA programs and initiiatives:

      • Cedar Walk – an alternative educational day program
      • Mentorship program to provide youth with positive social, educational, cultural, and recreation opportunities
      • Native Youth Learning Centre: life management skills, assisted computer applications, job search skills, and career development
      • Personal counseling (including wellness, mediation, and drug & alchohol intervention)
      • Residential programs for at-risk youth (Safehouse, Ravens Lodge, Young Bears Lodge, Young Wolves Lodge)
      • Recreation programs (canoeing, reading tepee, Sun Run etc…)
      • Fundraising to build a state0-of-the-art Native Youth Centre in East Vancouver
      • K’wam K’wum Q’ulumuy’ (Strong Young Women) – a 10 minute educational anti-violence video made by 5 young women in cooperation with UNYA.
      • Cree language instruction is available  (partnership with UBC)

      As we all know, Native youth are over-represented in areas such as school dropout, incarceration, and suicide.  UNYA is helping to curb these devastating trends and provide positive options for Urban Native youth who otherwise may have nowhere to turn.