HALIFAX - Last week the Kitpu Youth Program, based out of the Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre on Gottingen St., learned it would have to close its doors due to federal budget cuts.
But not if a group of more than 50 people who attended an emergency meeting at the George Dixon Centre in Halifax can help it.
Kitpu Youth “played a significant role in my life, for the better,” said Rebecca Moore, former president of the Kitpu Youth Council.
“I’m half-Mi’kmaq, but I felt alone growing up,” said Moore. “I didn’t know many Aboriginal youth in the city.
“To go to a place where I could learn about my culture was really good for me.”
The youth program had been running on a budget of about $120,000-$126,000 of federal funding per year, said Glenn Knockwood, program co-ordinator.
The funding came from the federal Department of Canadian Heritage’s Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth programs – which, according to the Vancouver-based Urban Native Youth Association, has been frozen.
The budget cuts caught Knockwood completely off guard. “I went home Friday and had a nice weekend. On Monday I woke up and I was sick, so I called the centre and they said ‘you have to come in.’ Then they told me about the cuts,” he said.
The diverse and determined crowd at the George Dixon Centre vowed to raise funds to keep the program running, however.
Participants split into small groups to discuss a range of fundraising ideas as well as long-term strategies to help urban Aboriginal youth thrive. Groups discussed benefit shows, silent auctions, and an on-line fundraising campaign and media strategy.
But co-organizer Ardath Whynacht (who blogged last week on the importance of the Kitpu Youth Program) stressed that what was happening in Halifax was also happening in urban centres across the country.
Whynacht called for a national day of action on July 12th to demand that the federal government restore funding to urban Aboriginal youth programs.
“We want Aboriginal programming in our town,” said Whynacht. “Halifax is calling every other town in Canada to want the same thing.”
Glenn Knockwood noted that no other association in Halifax offers culturally-based programming for youth.
There is a “generational disconnect from culture” among Aboriginal youth, says Knockwood.
“Residential schools, the Indian Act, the reservation-ization of Aboriginal people…all these have an effect” on young Aboriginal people’s connection to their cultural background, Knockwood said.
“We’re trying to play catchup.”
Rebecca Moore stressed the importance of Kitpu Youth programs in helping young Aboriginal people discover their identity.
“When you know your identity, you don’t stray, you don’t wander,” said Moore.
“Chances are, you’re going to make better decisions for yourself.”