Yes we are CHANGEMAKERS - For over six years I have facilitated Aboriginal Day Camp for Girls 8-14 yrs every Saturday at the Pacific Association of First Nations Women in Vancouver, BC through various funding streams <closed during the summer>. This takes place every Saturday and is a place for girls to learn about their culture and build self-esteem. All of our girls are in foster care or being raised by grandparents. We connect with them through learning about our culture through storytelling, making authentic art and crafts, drumming and leatherwork. With this program we have established ourselves as a critical piece to helping young Aboriginal Girls be proud of who they are and where they come from. Many children are being raised in homes where there is no Aboriginal culture taught or natural history understood. We are positive this girls group has changed how this population of children in care thinks and feels about themselves.
I was adopted at 5 years of age of Cree descent. I found and met seven of my First Nations birth siblings at the age of 45. This made me aware of how important being connected to your birthright is and how it defines you. It actually makes who you are and creates your identity. We find that when children connect to the cultural part of their heritage they derive great self-esteem and love for themselves. Learning about the skills it takes to be self-sufficient or learning about your Native sprirituality gives the girls great strength and pride. This is the best self-awareness no amount of money can buy.
When you take a small group of our First Nations Girls out in public to a swimming pool or a park you are acutely aware this is a rare sighting of beautiful children. In the Urban settings you do not see Aboriginal children in groups. It is a beautiful sight to see them as healthy, strong and proud of their culture participating in ceremonies.
When girls in our group are together on Saturday there may be 12-16 girls. They are connecting to each other in a strong sisterhood. Mostly because all the girls come from lost families, addicted parents and missing roots. These things are what cause deep depression in teenage girls and often make them look for love in the wrong places. They need to feel connected to prevent them from seeking attention in the wrong places. This vulnerability often leads to them making the wrong choices.Self-Esteem,self-worth and self-confidence leads to a meaningful identity. We have found that what the girls grow up without becomes terribly important in adolescent life. Girls go into crisis mode without security,continual support and nurturing love. Many of our little girls have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or multiple learning disabilities because their mothers were substance abusing while pregnant. This gives these children so many more obstacles to overcome in life. We give them tools to feel loved and treasured. Girls with low self esteem want to avoid rejection and therefore will be more inclined to say "yes" when they should be saying "no." The six workers - all First Nations women - and our two Elders have been the same workers since the program started six years ago.This makes them very close to the girls and they become like an Auntie or Kockum to these girls.Through these trusted relationships the girls know who their safe network is where to go for help. As a First Nations Women's association we want our children in care to know that the intergenerational problems brought on by residential schools were not their fault. These children deserve to know that we as a healthy society want to take care of them even if they do not belong to a family. In BC now around 75% of children in care are First Nations. The First Nations community wants these kids to feel they belong to the greater community of First Nations peoples.
I was a supervisor in a Homecare agency for twelve years then seven years ago was hired by the Pacific Association of First Nations Women to start an Aboriginal homecare agency. We now operate a homecare service <social enterprise> that does transporting and supervised access for children in care. Our government contracts have been in place for seven years. We employ fifteen First Nations/Metis Women who do childcare, supervised access and homemaking to vulnerable First Nations Families in urban Vancouver. We have an Elder Support worker and an Aboriginal Health Liaison worker in the office as well. The Board of this Association of Aboriginal Women is passionate about supporting young women and their hopes and dreams. Many great women in the Association have gone before us in helping the vision develop from its roots in 1985.