At Big Brothers Big Sisters, we believe every child should have the opportunity to reach his or her full potential – both as individuals and citizens. We believe that by changing the course of young lives we can in turn be changing the course of a community’s future.
Start Talking is a place where we want to raise awareness of key issues that face today’s youth. We will sometimes advocate, sometimes educate, sometimes inform, sometimes ask questions and always invite discussion about the pressing concerns that involve the younger generations of today.

Friday, June 21, 2013

I learned far more from them than they learned from me...

A reflection of our work in the Flying Dust community

by Karen Shaver
V.P., Agency Services
When I sit quietly, I can hear the drums measuring the heartbeat of the dancers whirling around the flagpole, evoking the movements of hunters and animals. With my eyes closed, I can see the feathers and intricate beadwork, painstakingly sewn onto the deerskin by mothers, aunties and grannies. I can just imagine, centuries ago, how challenging it would have been to craft the regalia, how mesmerizing the singing and dancing would have been to young children crowded around the fire.

I have been fortunate, in my role with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada, to be able to work with Flying Dust First Nation to expand our mentoring programs to their community. Flying Dust – Kopahawakenum in the Cree language - is a small community located in Saskatchewan with a population of about 500 members, on reserve. Although I was excited by the opportunity to work with the community to figure out how Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring programs could be delivered in Flying Dust, I was also quite uncertain. In a community where everyone knows everyone, where, in fact, many people are related in one way or another, how do you ensure confidentiality? In a community where volunteers are already taxed, how will they find time to volunteer with yet another initiative? How could I even talk, without feeling foolish, about the concept of structured mentoring in a community where knowledge and history are traditionally passed down through informal mentoring?

After many visits to meet with the community, to participate in a Harvest Celebration, and dance in a Pow Wow, the program was launched as Nistesak ekwa Nimisak. Nine Cree and Métis high school students mentored nine children at the Kopahawakenum elementary school over the course of a school year. The evaluation of the initiative showed some positive progress for both the children and the youth, especially in terms of community connection, civic engagement and attitude towards school.

Bruce MacDonald (left), president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canadaand Flying Dust First Nation Chief Jim Norman signed the agreement in 2011 to work together.
Working in partnership with members of the Flying Dust community has taught me much: if a healthy partnership with First Nations is predicated on relationships, then it’s important to share enough of yourself to build a real relationship; confidentiality isn’t important in this First Nations community (if you don’t know someone needs help, how can you help them??); and, in hindsight, not surprisingly, the Indian Act is one of the biggest barriers to success for First Nations communities and any efforts that can be taken to rectify the injustices codified in that Act should be taken.

On some level, I expected to be able to bring the resources of a national charity to bear to assist a First Nations community requesting assistance. What I found was a resilient and strong community doing all they can to provide guidance and leadership to the children and youth living there. Their culture is strong and vibrant. Their leadership is visionary. Their youth have hope for the future. They needed my support only a little.

And just like our Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mentors say about their mentees, I learned far more from them than they learned from me.


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