It was not ideal timing. Just as schools let out for summer, the federal government decided to freeze funding for the Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth (CCAY) program at all friendship centres across Canada.
According to Jeffrey Cyr, Executive Director of the National Association of Friendship Centres in Ottawa, the CCAY program provided for community-based, youth-led activities that are designed to connect Aboriginal youth with their culture.
“It built self-esteem, self-confidence and it actually made youth more well-grounded within their communities and their identity. It fosters motivation and leadership so that young people can make positive life choices and thus participate in Canadian society,” said Cyr.
The CCAY program offered a variety of programming. It included media and cultural instruction (such as writing, film, photography, and visual and digital arts), youth-created music and dance that was shared with the communities, public performances, drumming, carving, traditional teachings with Elders, language, songs, arts and crafts, talking circles and workshops.
Other projects trained youth in carpentry and building skills so that they could take on community beautification projects. The youth would also do a series of activities that would in the long run connect them to the economy.
“There was a series of jobs and skills they could learn over a period of years. It is important that the youth feel secure so they to find their culture and learn skills within that environment. They need a place to belong because a lot of urban Aboriginal youth are looking for such a place,” said Cyr.
The federal government, however, put the brakes on CCAY funding until the program could be revamped to ensure that youth are being streamed into the workforce.
“It’s a jobs-and-prosperity focus that is in line with what the government has been focused on since the last federal budget. You can have culturally based programs, but they have to be able to measure how that assists youth in transitioning into the economy, into the workforce and providing skills,” said Cyr.
Cyr said he can see the government’s mandate being carried out through the CCAY program. For that matter, he said, the program was probably doing just that but not measuring it.
Whatever their mandate, the timing on this funding freeze couldn’t be more unfortunate as there are now summer programs Canada-wide for Aboriginal youth that aren’t going to happen.
It isn’t just the youth that will be losing out since the preparation for many of these summer programs happened months ago at the beginning of the new fiscal year. Now there will be friendship centres out of pocket for expenditures needed to set up the programs, and many Aboriginal youth left idle without summer jobs.
“If this would have happened months ago, we could have been prepared. The NAFC is quite happy to work on realigning the program with the government, but this is not the smart thing to do. Have an open discussion on how to make it work better. The timing could have been better because now there is a whole bunch of pain out there in the communities and there could be children at risk. These kids could now be out there on the streets,” said Cyr.