Webequie First Nation – On Saturday, October 27th, the remote fly-in-only First Nation community of Webequie FN gathered for a special feast to celebrate the accomplishments of their youth whose original song echoed in the ears of their families, friends and elders as they sang, danced and showed their hand-made moccasin fashions. The youth were part of DAREarts First Roots (Nee-tum-ochi-bek), arts-based education program for youth, facilitated by DAREarts artist-teachers, in partnership with the community’s artists and teachers.
In communities where school absenteeism is an issue, the program has proven highly effective. In fact, the youth attending the DAREarts First Roots program have asked for their classroom/studio to be kept open until 10 pm at night to work! Research demonstrates that school absenteeism is a problem in First Nation communities as an estimated 50% of First Nation youth will drop out or be pushed out of high schools, resulting in diminished literacy and employment as well as increased poverty in future generations.
The DAREarts First Roots program helps to address this issue with an exceptional 80% attendance rate.
Chief Cornelius Wabasse of Webequie FN explained, “We have our fair share of social problems here but the DAREarts program really seems to work with our students. The fact that it is arts-based means it is easy for our kids to adapt to and be good at, and so they want to come to school as a result.”
Mary Gardiner, the School Principal of the Simon Jacob Memorial Education Centre for the 180 Kindergarten to Grade Ten students in Webequie added, “DAREarts First Roots program gets better each year (if that’s possible) as students and the community get to know the DAREarts crew and their dedication and commitment to the youth.”
The DAREarts First Roots Program is part of DAREarts’ national initiative to give youth challenged by life circumstances the confidence, courage and leadership skills to resist negative peer pressure so they can lead positive change in their lives and in their communities. In urban centres, including Toronto and Vancouver, inner-city youth are bused to renowned arts institutions and learn arts and vital life skills from arts professionals.
Due to the remoteness of northern First Nations communities, the DAREarts team flies into the communities for one to three week-long periods to work alongside community artists and elders.
In addition to Webequie, ON, the First Roots program has also been in Marten Falls FN, (Ogoki Post) ON, Sioux Lookout, ON, Attawapiskat FN, ON, and Indian Brook FN, Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. DAREarts is currently looking for funding to expand the program to other communities who have asked to participate.
Marilyn Field, President and Founder of DAREarts says, “The personal growth and success that youth experience as a result of participating in DAREarts is nothing short of exceptional. Each time we come back to Webequie, we see how the youth have benefited from the program by gaining the courage to make positive life choices and then influencing younger children, parents and other members of the community to do the same. We are so proud of them.”
This program is funded in part by CIBC Children’s Foundation and by the Ontario Government through the Ontario Arts Council and the Ontario Trillium Foundation.