THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay City Council in a united vote agreed tonight to support a pilot project to open a new youth centre. Youth in Thunder Bay, in specific high school student aged youth lack for safe places to engage with each other, and to reach their full potential.
“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.
“The young people and students want a better quality of life”, stated Tom Kamenawatamin, President & CEO of Wasaya Group Inc (WGI). This vision statement came from the Communities, parents and youth. The message is simple and the voice needs to be heard. It is a message that parents, Chiefs and Councils of communities across Northwestern Ontario who are the owners of First Nation owned corporation have endorsed.
For youth coming into Thunder Bay from the north, there are many challenges. It’s not an easy decision for parents and care providers let go their child leave their community and home to pursue their educations.
However the strategy is not simply focused on First Nation youth. As the process continued to evolve, the realization that many youth in our city face similar problems led to a need for an expanded reach and vision.
It is important to note that we are all in this together across Northwestern Ontario and in Thunder Bay.
In Thunder Bay, the Youth Services Advisory Committee was also working to improve opportunities for youth in the city. At the same time, across the North community leaders and parents were talking about how to properly invest in the youth to assist them in making positive choices and being able to achieve their full potential.
Across the North, the concern of parents has been greatly increased with the deaths of seven young people who have died while attending high school in Thunder Bay over the past seven years. The death in 2011 of Jordan Wabasse a student from Webequie First Nation was the impetus for action.
The youth and students want to ensure their safety and overall well-being while away from home, attending school, in the city.
“When we started to look at the recommendations and reports, there were 70 recommendations that have solutions to the problems and issues. There are safety issues, boarding home, facility, social issues, health and addiction, education standard issues,” said Kamenawatamin. “If the any basic needs are not met and we’re in survival mode, our focus on our goal is secondary”.
As the process continued forward, WGI and the City of Thunder Bay realized they were both working toward the same goal, and that this was a great opportunity for all the youth in the community.
“There is a time for enough planning and talking, it’s time we move forward and just do it. Our leadership says the young people are ‘our future leaders’, action is needed behind those words” continued Kamenawatamin. “We support their vision because it’s the youth/students that know the issues and problems first-hand. The youth face the problems daily, experience the loss of their peers and they live it”.
That action has started. Youth Centres Thunder Bay was formed in partnership with WGI, and a space for a first youth centre, in the Chapples Building at 711 Victoria Avenue East has been leased. Discussions continued with the City of Thunder Bay and progressed to the formation of an agreement with the city.
The City of Thunder Bay has brought in Les Voakes from Youth Centres Canada as an outside consultant toward developing, with engagement from young people and supporting organizations to put a ‘Made in Thunder Bay’ plan together.
The partnership with WGI, Youth Centres Thunder Bay, and the City of Thunder Bay is projected to be the pilot project for what will be that larger project.
Gerrit Wesselink, Chair of the City of Thunder Bay Youth Services Advisory Committee, said that the Committee is supporting the project. “The project fits with the vision for youth centres that has been developed by youth and community partners”, said Wesselink.
Pierre Mapeso, the Chair of Youth Centres Thunder Bay stated, “The pilot is a joint proposal from Wasaya Group Inc., Youth Centres Thunder Bay, and the City of Thunder Bay. We are moving quickly and currently have twenty agencies and businesses looking to participate or lend support to the Youth Centre. “We are very excited about this opportunity. It will be a really cool and engaging place for the youth”.
From the Wasaya Group Inc, a youth strategy has been formed from the three core recommendations:
1. DFC Student Living Centre
• Provide a safe nurturing environment
2. Two Youth Centers
OneYouth Centre in Thunder Bay to reach all youth/students
• A safe to gathering place, a safe place, a place to interact and socialize
• To provide recreational, cultural and educational programs
• To provide a one stop centre to assist youth/students to access services through networking with other service providers
• One Youth Centre to be combined in DFC SLC as Youth Student Support Services designed to meet their specific needs and services
• Thunder Bay Youth Centre can be added supplement for DFC students
3. Year round support and program
• Outreach, orientation, peer to peer leaders program, after school programs, student support services etc.
• This recommendation has been built into DFC Student Living Centre and Youth Centre program designs
“This youth strategy is endorsed and supported by Wasaya Chiefs and Board of Directors. There are key partners that support this initiative and progressing to move toward to solidify our partnership,” added Kamenwatamin.
There are other important factors that likely few take into account.
From a point of economics, along with common sense, these young people are also a huge 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 significant.
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. There are many more students attending high school, college and university as well.
The Wasaya Chiefs agreed at their Wasaya Neebin Gitche Mawejedehowin 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.
WGI is taking a solid proven 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.
WGI state, “The Communities, parents, NNEC/DFC, City of Thunder Bay and Confederation College supports this youth initiative. Because we have common goals in:
• Safety is foremost
• The goal to provide the youth the right tools and the right supports, more youth will realize the full potential of their dreams and goals in life
• Support Northern Ontario economic development through increased, sustainable First Nation high school education, graduation rates and improve education standards and programs
• Further Shaping economic is good business, in a province is facing a shortage of skilled workforce with the resource developments in our region
• To prevent any loss of youth lives”
One youth said “if we work together, we can work better and stronger”.