Empowerment the goal of Port Coquitlam program connecting kids with their Indigenous culture

A youth works on a button banner at the Port Coquitlam youth hub of the Spirit of the Children Society.

As Canadians learn about truth and reconciliation for Indigenous people today (Sept. 30), many may wonder what happens to children in urban neighbourhoods.

They might ask the question, “What is being done to restore culture to Indigenous children and youth?”

For those living in the Tri-Cities, the answer to that question is right under their nose.

Since 2018, the Spirit of the Children Society has operated a youth hub in Port Coquitlam and, this month, its new office was opened on Shaughnessy Street.

Welcoming with snacks and Indigenous teachings, the youth hub offers programs for children and youth aged seven to 19 — with programming almost every day of the week.

“Being an Indigenous organization, our traditional ways of knowing and being, our culture and history are interwoven in each of our programs,” explained Mikhaila Tobin, youth enhancement program coordinator.

“Each of our programs at the youth hub starts with a talking circle. We place great importance on sharing a meal together, as well,” Tobin added.

Youth are referred to the program via an online form and can participate in any number of activities depending on their age. 

The programs include:

• Mondays: Tweenies (ages 7 to 12)

• Wednesdays: Youth program (ages 13 to 18) 

• Thursdays: Boys and Girls group, called Napew in Cree, for boys and young men ages 10 to 15, and a girls’ group for ages 10 to 15, called Iskwew.

• Friday evenings: Cultural teachings are taught to all ages (seven to 19).

Tobin said the idea is to create a welcoming space for children where they can learn about their heritage through crafts, the Medicine Wheel, language and important Indigenous cultural teachings, while growing and learning with each other.

“Our main objective is to engage and empower,” said Tobin.

Indeed, many of the stories from residential school survivors are about how they were separated from families and lost their language and culture.

Tobin said it’s important for youth to feel proud of their heritage.

For example, at the beginning of a gathering, the youth are encouraged to say who their people are, whether they are Métis, Coast Salish or Cree, or any other First Nation.

“I think it’s really important to also say we’re an Indigenous-informed practice. We look at things through an Indigenous perspective, strength-based and trauma-informed practice as well,” Tobin further added.

The hub is part of the Spirit of Children Society, which has been operating programs for children, youth and families, including a housing component, for more than a decade.

Today, the organization is holding an event in honour of honour of residential school survivors, including a pipe ceremony, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Pier Park in New Westminster.

Tobin said everyone is welcome, including Tri-City, Burnaby and New Westminster residents, to learn from residential school survivors.

“We need to acknowledge what has occurred in our history. We need to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, and we also need to grow and learn from things,” Tobin explained, adding, “It’s very important that we honour those souls and respect that and just take a moment to feel and do some healing as well.”

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