I recently attended the Aboriginal Youth Achievement Awards in Thunder Bay. This is always one of my favourite events to attend in the year, as it brings young people together and recognizes the amazing things they are doing in the community.
Many of this year’s award recipients had a story of accomplishment to share. Their stories really pull at the heart strings. These youth were all impacted by some challenging circumstance or issue in their lives—be it drugs, alcohol or family violence. Their stories of courage and personal strength really made me stop and think how incredible it is that they have all persevered and overcome the challenges they were facing, and at such a young age. These youth are an inspiration to all of us. They made me realize how privileged I am to work with such a dedicated group of community members who support local youth on their journey through life and help guide them through their struggles when needed.
A couple of the award recipients thanked the BIWAASE’AA Program during their acceptance speeches. The BIWASSE’AA Program was initiated as a grassroots initiative by the Thunder Bay Urban Aboriginal Strategy in consultation with the community back in 2004. This program really helps nurture young people in our community, and over the last eight years, it has helped thousands of kids succeed in school.
On May 11th, I was a part of a media conference where Shkoday Abinojiiwak Obimiwedoon had no choice but to announce the end of its BIWAASE’AA Program. It was a very sad day for all of us. The program currently supports close to 500 children a day in seven local schools but due to recent funding cuts, we are forced to leave these children in the dark and in a very vulnerable situation. These children have depended on us for years, getting much-needed educational, nutritional, emotional and spiritual support.
For me this cut is hard to understand and digest. The BIWAASE’AA Program has proven to be successful over the years, with other communities even using the model we have developed. It is shocking that the Government feels that they cannot support a program that helps the community and engages youth in such meaningful ways.
Elder Agnes Hardy interprets the word BIWAASE’AA as the early part of the day when the sun is coming up and there is a feeling of hope in people’s hearts. The youth at the Aboriginal Achievement awards restored a feeling of hope in my heart that I needed at this time. Our youth were able to shine a bright light and remind me not to give up on the BIWASSE’AA Program. As a community, we must look for ways to ensure this vital programming is provided for our youth and our future. We must follow the teachings of our youth by finding new paths forward when it seems that the road has come to an end.
Frances Wesley - TBUAS Planner