Native youth centre stalled

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      A Vancouver urban First Nations leader is frustrated that Premier Gordon Campbell and Prime Minister Stephen Harper cannot find $28 million between them to help fund a proposed Native Youth Centre.

      According to Lynda Gray, executive director of the Urban Native Youth Association, they are missing a "gift-wrapped" opportunity to give the city's Native youth their chance to shine leading up to the 2010 Olympic Games.

      "We're caught in the quandary, as many projects are, of the province waiting for the federal government and the federal government waiting for the province," Gray told the Georgia Straight. "This project has been going on for five years, and it is really a gift-wrapped present to both levels of government. It's a solution to everything they say they want to get done, and yet it's not happening."

      UNYA, based on East Hastings Street, has involved all three levels of government in discussions on a proposed 50,000-square-foot centre on the southwest corner of East Hastings Street and Commercial Drive. The $46-million centre would include a gymnasium, a community kitchen, a child-care centre, an alternate school, a computer lab, a resource centre, an arts-and-culture studio, a drop-in centre, and space for a sweat lodge.

      Gray said she would "absolutely" like to see the project completed in time for the 2010 Olympics but said, "We'd need to break ground next May 2008."

      In a 2005 labour-force survey of Western Canada's off-reserve aboriginal population, Statistics Canada found that during the 12 months ending in March 2005, unemployment rates for Native people residing in the West were 2.5 times higher than for nonaboriginal people.

      "Additionally, the transition into the labour market was particularly difficult for aboriginal youth aged 15 to 24," the report noted.

      The Ministry of Children and Family Development has identified the area around the proposed centre as one of four "hubs" for serving at-risk youth but has so far not committed the $11-million in funding needed. The federal contribution would be approximately $17 million, according to UNYA, with the rest coming from private sources. The City of Vancouver kicked in $2 million to help secure the land, with Petro-Canada donating the remainder.

      During a May 29 estimates debate at the legislature, Vancouver-Hastings NDP MLA Shane Simpson asked Mike de Jong, minister of aboriginal relations and reconciliation, when the centre would be built.

      "I could probably provide the member with some general assurance," de Jong said in comments recorded in Hansard. "We're looking at it, and stay tuned."

      Simpson told the Straight he has now been referred to the office of Tom Christensen, minister of children and family development, but has heard nothing. De Jong and Christensen did not return calls from the Straight.

      "I am looking for someone in the government who will not just afford us the regular rhetorical stuff about how difficult this is, and somebody who actually can come to the table with Urban Native Youth [Association] to negotiate a real agreement that gets dollars to the table and supports them being able to get the federal support that also has been committed and promised here," Simpson said.

      Gray confirmed that UNYA has commitment from private donors, adding: "The only thing that's holding them back right now is that the government has been at the table for five years."

      Simpson added: "When I talk to people in the First Nations community, there are two issues that immediately arise: one is housing and the second is meaningful programs and supports for young aboriginals. We, we meaning the governments, are not doing nearly enough to provide those supports in the way we should in the urban communities."