Aboriginal youth1 in all municipalities across Canada face numerous social issues including addictions (alcohol and drugs), gang recruitment, HIV/AIDS, homelessness, high education drop-out rates, racism, discrimination, and poverty. Despite these risks, they also have abundant strength, resiliency and ability to succeed, to face personal and societal obstacles, and emerge as leaders of the future.
"A lot of things that have been put in place for Aboriginal youth don't work because they haven't consulted Aboriginal youth themselves. Its time for us to start doing things as young people because no one is going to do it for us. We can't wait for the government or the community to do things. We have to work with them"
Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1998
Respecting Our Youth - Aboriginal Youth in Calgary, was funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage, Urban Multipurpose Aboriginal Youth Centre Initiative and was a joint effort by the Aboriginal Resource Centre and The City of Calgary Community and Neighbourhood Services. The purpose of the research was threefold:
- to understand and record the societal experiences of Aboriginal youth 12-20 in Calgary,
- to uncover domains of service where Aboriginal youth have had both positive and negative experiences, and
- to offer programming and funding suggestions to the Calgary community based on the recommendations of Aboriginal youth.
It is significant to note that in all of the surveys, focus groups and discussions with Aboriginal youth, it was extremely important that the community honour their ideas and recommendations. While Aboriginal youth were able to quickly articulate the issues they face in their everyday lives, they were more interested in how their ideas could be put into place through innovative programs and services that are relevant and meaningful to them.
The Issues - briefly discusses the most-prevalent social issues identified by Aboriginal youth in Calgary. They have been ranked according to the predominance of comments throughout the study.
The Recommendations - is also based on the prevalence of comments from Aboriginal youth. In some cases, the issues did not transfer into priority recommendations but in most cases the correlation appeared.
Many of the project recommendations are at the concept stage and need further development. In all cases, youth felt that their issues were inter-twined and, therefore, need to be addressed in a holistic fashion. For example, the racism and discrimination youth encounter affects their success in the educational system. Poverty and homelessness affect violence and so on. All recommendations reflect a desire to build on the capacity of the community and to provide a better future for our young people.
1 Aboriginal people refer to individuals in section 35 of the Constitution Act 1982 and include Inuit, Métis, and First Nations people.