Monday, 22 August, 2011
As I shared with YMCAs earlier this summer, in June I was approached by the Federal Government with a request to chair a National Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Education for Students living on Reserve. While this joint call to action from the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations is proving to be complex and challenging, the opportunity to move forward on our Plan Y commitment to work collectively on improving health outcomes of children, teens and young adults is compelling. As one of four possible priority areas for collective action identified in our new Federation Strategy, focusing on the determinants of health for Aboriginal youth (of which education is a key factor) could have a major social impact not only on the lives of First Nations’ children and teens, but for their communities and the country as a whole.
As a country, the time has come for us to work together with our partners in First Nations communities to close educational achievement gaps once and for all for First Nation children and youth. Completing high school gives youth choices and opens doors to opportunity, individual wellbeing, and access to jobs. It is fundamental to continuous learning and growing. It is fundamental to the Canada we want, and the YMCA we need.
As a result of our work in Canada over the past 160 years, the YMCA has deep roots in education and in programs and services that impact other determinants of health. Less visible has been our growing involvement with First Nation peoples. In fact, just over one-half of all YMCAs in Canada have an existing relationship with First Nations communities, Aboriginal organizations and friendship centres.
The Role of the National Panel
As Chair of the National Panel, I am leading an engagement process that includes 8 provincial and 1 national roundtable sessions, visits to First Nation schools and key meetings with students, parents, educators and other stakeholders across the country. To date, the panel has visited five provinces in the lead-up to the roundtable sessions and received extensive briefings from a wide range of experts. The Panel will be engaged in an intensive process of regional visits starting on Labour Day that will culminate in a national roundtable in mid-November and the tabling of a final report by year-end. We will be involving YMCA member associations in these regional visits where possible.
A Focus on the Future
I have had some amazing experiences so far. There was the opportunity to participate in a cultural sweat lodge ceremony at the Wanuskewin Heritage Park near Saskatoon and to be part of the Grand Entry at the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation Pow Wow in Saskatchewan. These “chance of a lifetime” opportunities reinforced the rich culture of First Nation people and the need for Canadians and First Nations to work together to ensure that we put students first.
response to the recommendations that will emerge from the Panel in the coming months. In turn, I invite all YMCA staff across the country to share their own experiences and suggestions with me from your work with First Nations children, teens and young adults, by leaving a comment below.
This week the National Panel heads to Edmonton where we will hold the final key meetings prior to the start of our Regional Roundtables.
Last week, Steve Butz, President & CEO of the YMCA of Greater Vancouver, Denis Gagnon, VP Association Services, Marty Reynolds, Past Chair of the YMCA Canada Board and I flew to Prince George where we met Mark Miller, CEO who took us on a tour of the YMCA of Prince George including the downtown youth centre, the community school and the main health, fitness and recreation centre. We were very impressed with the wide range of services offered to the people of Prince George, focused on strengthening the foundations of community.
As a group, the next morning we took a one hour flight to Terrace and then drove 1 ½ hours further north to the Nass Valley, home to the Nisga’a people and the YMCA of New Aiyansh. The YMCA of New Aiyansh was introduced by an Anglican missionary in the early 1880s and the Nisga’a have kept the concept alive through oral tradition and without any contact with the Canadian YMCA. While they have been offering a variety of programs for children and youth throughout their history with a particular emphasis on sports (especially basketball), the YMCA is more than program delivery…it is a big idea that integrates Christian and traditional Nisga’a values with a particular focus on respect for self and others. It is a unique YMCA and we were impressed by all that they shared with us.
Do you have an experience or suggestion you would like to share with me as a result of your work with First Nations children, teens and young adults?
I welcome your thoughts and ideas.