New federal terms for Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth Program grants affect Native youth activities
Emanuela Sheena doesn’t have to look any further than her family’s experience to see how a long-standing federal funding program can improve the lives of off-reserve Native youths.
Through the Renfrew Collingwood Aboriginal Youth Canoe Club, one of many initiatives supported by the government’s Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth Program, Sheena’s son Matthew was inspired to go to university. He’ll soon start his education and wants to eventually work for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
However, several undertakings like this East Vancouver–based canoeing group may not be able to continue: the Harper government is changing the terms for granting CCAY funding.
This has caused a lot of frustration among those like Sheena who are running Native youth activities. The Italian-Canadian mom, who is married to an Okanagan Indian Band man, coordinates the boating group.
“What our program really does is it gets the youth in a healthy place,” Sheena told the Straight in an interview at her office. “They gain their confidence, they build their cultural pride, they start to understand who they are. We mentor them in healthy situations, leadership skills, give them confidence, and once they start building up those skills, they volunteer. They do things, and that stuff can all be written in their résumé, and they eventually find jobs.”
According to Angeline Nelson, CCAY provides around $1.3 million for 14 programs in the Lower Mainland. The Anishinaabe and Cree woman is the executive director of the Knowledgeable Aboriginal Youth Association, which runs a Vancouver music studio for young Native people.
“We work with a lot of aboriginal youth after hours, and we get them to express their voice through music,” Nelson told the Straight by phone.
In June, the $22-million Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada–administered CCAY program was frozen. On July 30, Conservative Minister John Duncan announced in a media release that CCAY funding would again be made available for projects that will provide Native youth with “skills and experiences they need to participate more fully in Canada’s economy”.
The federal agency didn’t make Duncan or any official spokesperson available for comment before the Straight’s deadline.
Meanwhile, Sheena and Nelson haven’t seen the new terms for CCAY funding. They aren’t sure their programs will qualify.