British Columbia’s Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation leads efforts towards reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples. Involving Aboriginal youth, the fastest growing demographic in the province, can be a challenge.
Many First Nations across the country are faced with the question of how to build a community where youth have opportunities to explore their potential, increase their skills and find their own voice. For the Ehattesaht First Nation, the answer came in the form of creative technologies, a strong partnership with Royal Roads University and a passionate ministry youth engagement specialist, Dawn Lindsay-Burns.
The main Ehattesaht community, located on the central west coast of Vancouver Island, has a high percentage of youth and, until recently, very few recreational learning outlets to channel their curiosity and enthusiasm, a situation that led to increased exposure to the social dangers many Aboriginal youth face. The community’s remote location, almost an hour along an unpaved logging road from the main highway, makes access to local facilities difficult, exacerbating the problem.
As a graduate from the provincial government’s Aboriginal Youth Internship Program, which gives Aboriginal youth experience in the B.C. Public Service, Lindsay-Burns began working with the Ehattesaht youth, helping them uncover and articulate aspirations for their future. She realized that the most important thing was to listen and not make assumptions. She found that one of the youth’s main desires was to have an active voice in the community, but they felt that they had no capacity to express themselves.
Over three years, Lindsay-Burns helped guide the youth through a funding application processes that brought them three annual small grants from B.C.’s New Relationship Trust, a capacity building fund. These $2,500 grants helped the youth to hold workshops and associated activities leading to a successful presentation to Chief and Council demonstrating why their community should invest in its youth. That investment allowed the youth to purchase a computer, digital camera, speakers and microphones. The youth benefited from training and support from university and music specialist partners. By using these modern mediums they created a short film that allowed them to play out scenarios of isolation, peer pressure and acceptance. They also learned how to use the technology to express their feelings and aspirations by laying down hip-hop tracks and making videos.
For the Ehattesaht youth, the project has been transformative, teaching new skills and promoting teamwork and leadership. It has given them a sense of identity and self-confidence in their own abilities and unique perspective on the world, but has also given them the voice they sought within their community. They have used that new found voice to communicate with Chief and Council, demonstrating what they could contribute to the community and asking for the same investment in return.
The Ehattesaht youth recognize that not everyone is in tune with the new mediums and their hip-hop beat, but they are slowly bridging the gap between the new and the traditional.
“Being involved with these creative technologies has helped the youth with their leadership development work,” says Lindsay-Burns. “We all realize that we are only a few stages along the road and that this kind of capacity building takes time. But as the youth become more confident and the wider community joins them in their exploration of the possibilities of these creative technologies, they will continue through more stages, such as investigating how this new medium can preserve their language and culture in the digital world.”
Lindsay-Burns is passionate about relationship building with youth and believes that her experience at Ehattesaht demonstrates that most Aboriginal youth will create their own opportunities given the chance. This is not a new lesson, but it is one that public servants working with Aboriginal youth will find value in each day.
“Partnering with Aboriginal people to improve the outcomes for the diverse communities across British Columbia involves complex discussions and negotiations involving economic and social development tools,” says Steve Munro, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. “But sometimes the most effective work starts at the grassroots level, like the Ehattesaht First Nation youth project.”
Sharon Pocock is a public affairs officer with the B.C. Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.