After his best friend died in a snowmobile accident in February, Ruben Dick started on a path of self-destruction, fuelled by depression and substance abuse.
Concerned family members encouraged Dick, 23, to apply to the Katimavik Indigenous Youth in Transition program. He agreed because it would provide him with the opportunity to create a better future for his infant daughter Delayna.
“People wanted me out of my community because I was going through a really tough time,” Dick said.
Since 1977, Katimavik has been providing skill-building programs and work experience for Indigenous youth across Canada. Now the organization has partnered with the Tlicho government in the Northwest Territories and the Cree Regional Authorities in Quebec to allow Indigenous youth to develop skills for post-secondary education and employment.
For the pilot project, eight youth are living in Regina and another eight in Peterborough, Ont., for five months.
All the youth staying Regina are First Nations from the Tlicho region. They work on a rotating schedule volunteering for organizations such as UR Pride and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
In Peterborough, the participants come from Eeyou Istchee Nation in northern Quebec. The Cree youth spend four days a week volunteering at organizations such as the Peterborough Youth Emergency Shelter and the Peterborough Communication Support System.
Both groups are also enrolled in an introductory university program which they attend once a week. A facilitator lives with them, co-ordinating their activities and providing guidance.
“What we’re trying to do is promote civic engagement through different forms, but the basis of that is volunteering in the communities,” said Andy Garrow, the Katimavik director of youth development.
Katimavik shifts focus
Garrow was brought on in 2014, when the organization shifted its focus to Indigenous youth and reconciliation.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada final report in 2015 called for the federal government “to establish multi-year funding for community-based youth organizations to deliver programs on reconciliation.”
“We’re going to have that big focus on truth and reconciliation, and we want to have foundational learning happen in every Katimavik house,” Garrow said.