THUNDER BAY – It was a morning of tears, hugs and concern for the future. Today, Shkoday Abinojiiwak Obimiwedoon announced the end of its BIWAASE’AA Program which, for the last eight years, has provided much-needed educational, nutritional, emotional and spiritual support to hundreds of children in need in Thunder Bay.
Tammy Bobyk, Executive Director of Shkoday Abinojiiwak Obimiwedoon said that children who need the program the most will be put in jeopardy.
“This is very bad news for children in Thunder Bay. Our programming currently supports close to 500 children a day in seven local schools. Without this funding, we are forced to discontinue the program and leave these children in a vulnerable position. We are deeply saddened that it has come to this and particularly because these children depend on us but we feel that we will have no other option”, she said.
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the main program funder has ended funding for the BIWAASE’AA program on March 31st 2012.
In 2004, the Thunder Bay Urban Aboriginal Strategy (TBUAS), in consultation with the grassroots community, developed the BIWAASE’AA program, originally called the Neighbourhood Capacity Building Project. It was designed as a holistic program to address child poverty issues by increasing the life skills of Aboriginal and other children, youth and their families through strategies of cultural awareness, academic improvement, structured activities and healthy nutritional supplementation.
Paul Francis, Program Manager said that there is considerable evidence that the program has had a highly positive impact on the children that is supports.
“The BIWAASE’AA program has proven to be enormously successful over the years. We have the research to prove it, as well as testimonials from many local families who have been helped. This is a positive program that really makes a difference in people’s lives and positively impacts the entire community. By investing in our community’s children, we have been investing in our future. There is no reason why this program should not be funded moving forward,” he said.
For the 2012-2013 year, the BIWAASE’AA program requires $700,000 in order to offer its services to Thunder Bay’s urban Aboriginal and other children and families in need. This represents a cost of $15/child/day for the full program and $5/child/day for the after-school program.
Despite the establishment of many partnerships with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organizations, businesses, the local school boards and federal, provincial and municipal organizations, Shkoday Abinojiiwak Obimiwedoon was not able to identify long-term, sustainable funding for this program.
Bobyk explained that the announcement of the likely closure was being made in order to allow the program’s Youth Outreach Workers to make plans for their future.
“We do not want to leave our seven Youth Outreach Workers and our other staff in uncertainty. They need to be able to make other plans. In light of this, we are announcing that the Biwaase’aa program will close at the end of June”, she said.
Bobyk added that the program has applied to other potential funders including the Province of Ontario and that unsolicited donations have been coming in regularly.
“It seems a heavy burden to put on the shoulders of the Province to ask them to largely fund the program when the Federal government has completely withdrawn its support. The unsolicited donations from the community are both generous and encouraging but, without some significant funders coming forward, we have no other choice but to end the program,” she said.
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.
Hardy said, “It is a sad day that we must announce that we can no longer provide the BIWAASE’AA program that provided so much hope to children and families in need in our community.”