“There is hope for the future, if we work strong and better together”

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WGI Meeting 2012

THUNDER BAY – “We need hope”. That message was delivered by Amanda Suganaqueb to the Wasaya Chiefs and Board of Directors at the Wasaya Neebin Gitche Mawejedehowin on Saturday August 11, 2012. “There is hope for the future, if we work strong and better together,” added Amanda. The 15 year old young woman, from Webequie First Nation, was direct and simple. Leaving behind her family, her community, her language, and her life to attend high school is difficult.

Young people coming into Thunder Bay from the north face many challenges.

There is peer pressure, loneliness, and a lack of safe places to go. Sadly too, many young people face the hurdle of racism in our city. There is a lack of safe places to go.

Many of the young people have found refuge in alcohol, drugs, and other less positive choices. Very sadly, some of the young people have never returned home. They have been found in the rivers.

The most recent was Jordan Wabasse a promising hockey player and artist from Webequie First Nation. Amanda knew Jordan. She remembers playing hockey with the young man, and sharing thoughts, hopes and dreams of the future.

Helping young people to make positive choices, and assisting them to focus on their education needs support.

From a point of economics, along with common sense, these young people are also an economic benefit to Thunder Bay. Each young person brings in about $25,000 each into the city over the course of the school year. The economic spin-off of those funds in local shops, restaurants and other businesses is huge.

Think of it, there are about 200 students attending at just Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School. That represents five million dollars in economic activity in Thunder Bay.

Add in the hundreds of other students, and the full economic impact becomes far larger than it might appear at first glance. That does not include the economic spin off of those dollars in our local economy. The accepted normal figure is a multiplier effect of seven times.

The Wasaya Chiefs passed a resolution on Saturday to formally endorse and support efforts to build a Student Living Centre, this accommodations facility to have student support services and activities and to house Aboriginal students coming from the north. The current model, as explained to the Wasaya Chiefs is broken, and it must be replaced.

Further, the Wasaya Chiefs have agreed to step up and support a Youth Centre in Thunder Bay that will serve as a safe gathering place to socialize and interact, provide recreational, cultural and educational programs, provide support through networking, as a one stop centre to access services or services based on need, a facility that is open twenty-fours, seven days a week. This plan is to ensure they have the skills and opportunities to live, learn and grow in their new city of choice.

This is a bold move, one that will mean real change, and helps to send a strong message across the north that young people matter.

It may sound harsh, but the reality is, for most Aboriginal young people as well as for many of the multicultural youth in our city, fitting in can be really hard.

That is coupled with peer pressure. Young people left without proper supervision after school can find attractions in our city that are the wrong choices – drugs – gangs – alcohol are choices that those already lost will try to get more young people engaged with.

You might be asking about why Wasaya Group Inc, is stepping up?

Wasaya Group Inc. is taking a solid business approach to providing these tools for social and economic value of educations to increase sustainable First Nation High School education and graduate rates and to improve and protect overall health, safety and well-being of youth and students while living in Thunder Bay.

Some of the real challenges for youth programs are finding the funds to keep the facility operating. It is easy to get program funding, but getting the money that keeps the lights on, the heat on, and pays the rent is a huge issue for most centres.

Across Canada right now, at a time with the need is the greatest, youth centres are closing.

For Thunder Bay, there is the Underground Gym, New Hope Youth Centre, Regional Multicultural Youth Council, the Boys and Girls Club and Indian Friendship Centre.

In terms of working with teenagers, the plan is to allow the teens the opportunity to further their goals, overcome the hurdles that they may have, and received the services and help they sometimes need.

For teenagers, the fact is that the some of the current options do not fit into what they want to do… sometimes it is a matter of perception. Teens see themselves as young adults, not boys or girls anymore. Often it is a decision on programing. Teens often once school is out want to relax and chill. Some are driven to do things, others will follow along.

That is a key. If there are no safe places, then to a degree there is less hope.

If there is no hope, then we in Thunder Bay, and across the North will continue to see the same results we have always seen. Unacceptable results that represent a model that is broken and must be replaced.

The key to making sure the youth are safe, if they are able to chill out after school, something as simple as going online or watching television is important.

It is in finding a balance between structured programing, and relaxed engagement that is the key. It means having places where youth can go and in effect be themselves.

While some see the way forward with sports, looking at the full scope of the problems including poverty, many young people in Thunder Bay have far different needs that should be met before they are handed a hockey stick, or asked to start kicking around a soccer ball.

It’s about providing reality to their vision to ensure their safety, well-being and nurturing environment to learn and grow. The goal is given the right tools, and the right supports, more students will realize the full potential of their dreams.

The needs are great, the time is now, and deeds not words are what are needed.

James Murray

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