The high school drop-out rate in Calgary and Alberta is the highest in the country. Research shows that male and female students stop attending for very different reasons, but one key contributing factor is a lack of connection to their school.
Research shows that after-school programming can support the positive development of at-risk youth when it includes appropriate supervision and structure and competent qualified staff. Practices that support the healing journey of Aboriginal youth involve addressing issues of cultural identity, social inclusion and mentoring. They promote protective factors in youth and include Aboriginal cultural identity, adults modelling a healthy lifestyle, good physical and mental health, and healthy peer modelling. Youth can reach their potential when connected with a positive adult, when they are connected to school and their community and when they can envision a positive future for themselves.
Our YMCA 7th Generation (Y7G) program is offered to aboriginal high school students in Calgary. It operates at three Calgary high schools and encompasses cultural teachings through storytelling, traditional activities, leadership skills, 7 Sacred Teachings, Medicine Wheel Teachings, Elders and cultural field trips. Our partnership with the Calgary Board of Education enables the students in the YMCA 7th Generation Program to receive high school credits. It is a great opportunity for Aboriginal youth to reconnect with their heritage while building pride, a positive self-identity, and a positive connection to school.
Y7G participants connecting to culture through the program
On a blistery cold day in November 2015 the Y7G cohort gathered and made the journey to Blackfoot Crossing. This historic site is on the traditional land of the Blackfoot Confederacy and is where Treaty 7 was made between her Majesty the Queen and the Blackfoot people. There, the group was able to explore the life of the Blackfoot people before the signing of Treaty 7 – a rich cultural life that revolved primarily around their most important source of food, shelter, clothing, tools and spiritual connection with the buffalo. The group learned how drastically their ancestor’s lives changed when they no longer had buffalo to sustain their semi-nomadic way of life, and in turn how this led them to make Treaty with the federal government and its royal head of state. The chiefs and elders who were present on that historic day in 1877 had to struggle with a decision that would determine the well-being of generations to come – a true test of leadership that is difficult to imagine.
This was an unforgettable experience for both staff and participants alike. It was evident that the group was connecting with their history in ways that would not have been feasible in a classroom. The youth were able to walk the very ground where their ancestors made an enormous decision that would without a doubt have an immense impact on the generations that were to follow. Now, seven generations after this fateful event, the current generation of youth will soon step up as leaders and make decisions that will impact the next seven generations to come.
In spring 2016, the Y7G participants went to Writing on Stone Provincial Park. The bus ride to Writing on Stone was filled with chatter and laughter, as lasting friendships had flourished between the youth. This field trip was just south of Calgary where the land was still, quiet, and hauntingly beautiful. The river at Writing on Stone is surrounded by hoodoo rock formations (which legend tells were once people, petrified into the landscape), sacred hills where many had gone on vision quests, and massive rock faces filled with ancestral art. It was expressed by staff that you could “feel the land speak to you here, and it would tell you stories of the hundreds of ceremonies that had taken place in this sacred site.”
The group toured through paths that wound alongside rock faces that held the traditional ancestral art of the Blackfoot people. Incredibly this ancient form of communication was still evident, withstanding the test of time, bullet hole markings from Mounted Police target practice, and modern graffiti. Each picture tells a different story and can be interpreted many different ways by the various eyes that looked upon them. Consistently though, the images tell the story of the perseverance of Aboriginal people.
Being able to offer these types of experiential learning opportunities to our YMCA 7th Generation youth has had a tremendous impact on them. Connecting to the land, culture and history of indigenous people in a profound and meaningful way allows the youth to gain a sense of pride and self confidence in who they are. This is an essential building block for their successful transition into adulthood.
Thank you to our donors who have generously supported the Aboriginal Programs and Services department at YMCA Calgary.
- United Way of Calgary and Area
- The City of Calgary – Family and Community Support Services
- MEG Energy Corp.
- Anonymous Donor
- The Calgary Foundation – The Moffat Family Fund
- The Calgary Foundation – Anonymous Family Legacy Fund
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