Healing the Legacy
Catherine Cheechoo, 30, Moose Cree First Nation
As a former member of the NAN Decade for Youth council, Catherine has seen the effects of residential school has had on youth across the NAN territory, including herself.
Working now as a PLAY supervisor for the Right to PLAY (Promoting Lifeskills in Aboriginal Youth) program, Catherine is working to empower and enhance leadership skills among youth through sports and other programs.
“We have a variety of programs that aim to address certain areas. We try to design the programs to address the specific and individual needs of the communities we work with. For the example, the major one we have right now is the youth leadership program. It’s a one-year project and we’re currently in 30 First Nations across Ontario.
“One of the biggest challenges or impacts of residential school that I’ve come to really feel in the past 2-3 years since starting with Right to PLAY is the lack of parenting and life skills you see among our people.
“I’ve been a parent myself now for the past 2-3 years, and you wanna do the best for your child and you wanna give them as much as you can, and you want to lead them in a direction they’ll have the most opportunity.
“And sometimes, it’s tough when I work with little ones and you see they might not have that. Like some kids might be in care, or some kids you’ll see where they’re not being disciplined, and sometimes it’s because the parents don’t know any better.
“Like I went through personal struggles growing up with my dad. You know, he was an alcoholic, and I struggled with that for a long time. I was mad and angry about a lot of things. And someone gave me something in high school and it’s one of those daily reflections you have through an Alcoholics Anonymous program. I read it every once in a while and the gist of the message was that, your parents can only give you what they have and what they know.
“We have an after-school program and the focus is giving extra support to the kids, and giving them an opportunity to participate more in physical activities and also cultural based activities.
“A good example of that was the after-school program running in Sandy Lake where we had six youth leaders host kids from Grades 1-6 three days a week. And they worked with them in the gym, outside, leading different activities. And then we would alternate that with Elders coming in to visit the kids and they would learn about crafts.
“One of the neat things about the program is that it employs a lot of youth in the community. That’s one of the goals of all of our programming, is to have it youth led and to empower the kids.
“In the program I work with, I’ve seen the youth become inspired and empowered. I’ve seen them become inspired through learning from each other, and being inspired by the little ones. Say for example, in Sandy Lake, the youth leaders: they work with little kids on a regular basis and when I go in for my community visits, I see how hard they work for those kids on a daily basis and I see that as being inspired and motivated to do a good job.”
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