As the fastest-growing demographic in B.C., Indigenous youth are important to the social and economic future of the province.
Indigenous youth workers strive to create meaningful, respectful, and trusting relationships with youth in a way that empowers them, fosters leadership, and supports them to live healthy, happy, and successful lives. Their roles are as diverse as the youth they work with and could include activities such as managing a youth centre and developing programming, acting as a counsellor or outreach worker, or running education or afterschool programs.
In March 2017, approximately 50 Indigenous youth workers came together on the traditional territory of the Sts’ailes for a three-day forum to share, learn, network, and gain tools that will allow them to make a positive difference in the lives of the young people they work with.
One of the facilitators at the forum was 34-year-old Kamloops-based youth worker and motivational speaker Justin Young. He talks about the power of the connections made at the forum.
“It was really exciting to see things come together,” he said. “To see people connecting and learning from each other and creating lasting friendships was inspiring. There was a feeling of unconditional acceptance to be open to the learning experience and to be supportive to each other.”
As well as connecting and sharing experiences and knowledge, the delegates also learned to use tangible tools they can take back to their communities. A videographer demonstrated how to document the development of a community and a graphic artist talked about using creativity to capture important moments by connecting community stories to art.
“These three days were about coming to a place to gain and gather medicine,” Young said. “The medicine is the tools, the support, the connection that empowers our youth workers, so that they in turn can empower our youth.”
For Young, one of the most powerful exercises at the forum was the Trust Walk. Delegates paired up, one was blindfolded, and no one was allowed to speak while their partner led them around the room.
“Many people were hesitant at first,” he said. “But imagine a youth being unsure about approaching someone with a question or a problem. We have to open our ears and be aware of body language. The Trust Walk was a way of recognizing our vulnerabilities and realizing that we can be blind to opportunities to help if we don’t use all the tools at our disposal.”
Young, who is Anishinaabe, opened himself up to the positive experience of working with Indigenous youth after completing his own personal journey in 2010: a 2,200-kilometre Walk for Healing from Kamloops to Bloodvein, Manitoba, on the east side of Lake Winnipeg.
He says it was a journey of self-healing that had a profound effect and led him to want to pass on his learning to others and create a respectful, team-building approach to his work with Indigenous youth.
The B.C. Aboriginal Youth Workers Forum started in 2011 with a pilot in Campbell River. The participants of the pilot started a network to keep people connected. The forum has been an annual event attracting Indigenous youth workers from throughout the province.