September 27, 2010
Corinne Fox is the Director of Intergovernmental Network for the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN). She works with youth from 49 different communities in northern Ontario.
Jacki Alto is a mother who has lived in cities all her life. Her own mother was a residential school survivor. She is the Program Coordinator of the Girl Power Wolf Spirit program.
Both these women are essential leaders in NAN, a political territorial organization that represents 49 First Nation Communities in Northern Ontario. NAN is one of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund’s indigenous partners.
Corinne and Jacki spoke to about 20 members of the York Group at St. James’ Cathedral in Toronto this month. They shared stories about some of the challenges facing the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. These communities are remote and some are only accessible by air. This makes most products very expensive and isolates the communities from one another. There are few schools and social programs and the ones that do exist are lacking resources and staff. This is extremely problematic in communities where 68% of the population is under 29 years old.
Perhaps the most pressing and challenging issue facing NAN right now is the high rate of suicides, especially among youth. Both women explained that these deaths have a huge impact in these small, close-knit communities. “Everyone is a family, all of us lose a child when one of us loses a child,” Jacki said.
Residential schools have led to damaging inter-generational gaps. Residential school survivors are now parenting their own children, but they have no experience of being parented themselves. Addiction, unemployment and poverty effect whole communities. Sexual abuse is a key factor contributing to the overwhelming number of young indigenous women who commit suicide. Corinne spoke of hopelessness that some youth feel with their situations, that there is no escape.
This is where the Girl Power Wolf Spirit program is so transformative – it is full of hope! The program is a source of empowerment for youth in the most at-risk communities. Participants are trained in leadership skills, community organizing, and social engagement through workshops, traditional practices and education. It also gives youth from different communities an opportunity to find relations among their struggles and experiences and create bonds of understanding and solidarity. At the same time, the leaders of Girl Power Wolf Spirit recognize that each community has unique needs and so the program is tailored to each community.
Currently, Girl Power Wolf Spirit needs more partnerships like PWRDF. Funding is a struggle and the leaders are hoping to create more resources and plan to expand their work to more communities in the future.
The challenges faced by the Nishnawbe Aski Nation are many and complex. There is hope however, for empowered youth and transformed communities through the Girl Power Wolf Spirit program.
More information on NAN and the Girl Power Wolf Spirit program can be found at:
Nishnawbe Aski Nation NAN Launches Youth Resiliency Project KNet Media NAN looks to expand girl power program Wawatay News Online