THUNDER BAY – A new name and a new look for an important local program aimed at helping to address issues around child poverty has been launched by Shkoday Abinojiiwak Obimiwedoon (SAO) at its Community Stakeholders Forum. Aimed at expressing the belief in and hope for the future of the program by SAO and its partners, the former Neighbourhood Capacity Building Project (NCBP) was renamed BIWAASE’AA (BIH–WAH–SAY-AH) in a ceremony held to launch the forum.
While there are various interpretations for BIWAASE’AA, Elder Agnes Hardy explained that it speaks to that early part of the day when the sun is coming up and there is a feeling of hope in people’s hearts. In launching BIWAASE’AA today at the beginning of the forum, she said, the organizers are expressing their hope that they will all be able to work together to ensure the future sustainability of this important initiative.
BIWEAASE’AA Program Manager Paul Francis said that, in 2004, the Thunder Bay Urban Aboriginal Strategy (UAS) developed the NCPB program which was unlike any other pilot project in Canada. It was designed to be a holistic program which would help address child poverty issues by increasing the life skills of children, youth and their families through strategies of cultural awareness, academic improvement, structured activities and healthy nutritional supplementation.
In 2007, the sunset of a significant federal government contributor saw the coordinator staffing positions and corresponding programs of the NCBP lost. Despite this tremendous impact, the youth outreach worker portion of the NCBP continued to exist under the auspices of Shkoday Abinojiiwak Obimiwedoon (SAO) to ensure the continued delivery of the after-school program, the in-school program, nutritional programs and structured activities. In December of 2009, the Board of Directors of SAO formally agreed to keep the NCBP within its organization over the long-term.
On March 31, 2012, the funding from the Office of the Federal Interlocutor (OFI), a branch of Aboriginal Affairs will sunset, leaving the NCBP and the children and families it serves once again in a vulnerable position.
Forum participants will review a study on the impact that the program has had on four Lakehead Public Schools and a business case for the long term sustainability of the BIWAASE’AA project. From the findings and discussions, SAO intends to formulate a plan to ensure that BIWAASE’AA continues to operate in the community after the funding sunsets.