It is a true sign of social progress when a community can care for its own. Though resources may be stretched to the limit, and the challenge may be great, the Cree recognize the importance of administering to the needs of the community where it truly counts – with the children. The children are the future and they require every break possible to help set them on a safe course through the sometimes murky seas of life. While a strong education system is being developed in an effort to properly equip the next generation to have a deeper understanding of Cree culture and the world as a whole, there will always be those who need a stronger influence to help them realize their potential. This is where cultural institutions such as the new Reception Center in Mistissini come in.
The Reception Center, which took about a year to be constructed, opened in March of this year, at an estimated cost of $4 million. This well-constructed facility is considered state-of the art. Some of the services that are available at the center include an indoor sports area, an outdoor basketball and rollerblading court, a classroom, a small computer room with live computers, and a space lot arts and crafts, the center, which deals exclusively with young offenders between the ages of 12 and 17, has a dozen staff members who work in shifts of three. “We’re looking into how to address the matter of youth under 12,” says Roger Petawabano, Director of Readaptation Services. These kids are now dealt with in group or foster homes.
“In the 1990’s the Cree people started pushing to repatriate the youth from the centers down south, like Batshaw. A push for a center in a Native community came about,” Petawabano told the Nation.
“There were very few resources in the north.” The Reception Center now provides a welcome alternative to having to send young Native offenders south to Val D’or and Montreal.
Though the center is a huge step in the right direction, there are still several kinks to be worked out. Some alterations have had to be made to the building due to security concerns, and the infrastructure is an ongoing matter of concern. “It’s nice to have a building of this type, but, for me, a nice building doesn’t make a center,” Petawabano adds. “It’s the resources and the structure within the building that count. That’s what we’re working on right now.”
Petawabano sees the need for a bigger operating budget, a concerted effort to define their services, and proper training and education for staff members. The positives, however, far outweigh the negatives. Troubled youth can now be cared for in familiar territory and closer to their families. Being able to provide services to Native children in a Native environment is definitely seen as a step in the right direction. The kids will now have access to instruction in an environment that can help foster a stronger sense of cultural identity.