Again and again, Aboriginal youth echoed the fact that they are ... quite literally ... bored and feel unwelcome in mainstream youth facilities. They have nothing to do, no place to meet and that those youth centers or recreational opportunities that do exist in Calgary are not comfortable and safe places for them to go.
"We need a club to hang out in that's just for Natives. A sport Center or a Drop-in Center with everything in it for everyone. It has to be free. You shouldn't have to go through Social Services or have a problem to be able to attend. It should be open for all Aboriginal youth as well as Elders to come in and do ceremonies." Aboriginal male - 13 yrs
As researchers trying to access Aboriginal youth in Calgary, it was primarily through the assistance of youth workers in Calgary with established service ties that we were able to access interested participants. Non-Aboriginal youth have places to converge, i.e. recreation centers around Calgary, youth clubs or youth centers. The point to stress here is that even as researchers we could not go to one or two locations and capture large groups of Aboriginal youth at one time. This is the problem and this is what youth have told us they want. They want a safe place where a range of services can be developed and offered by other Aboriginal youth. Some of the service areas were recreation, health, services, a place where they can bring their families as well as having Elders present for teachings and support.
Recreational facilities. Somewhere out of downtown - it's too crowded too many tall buildings. Put something where there are a lot of Natives. Aboriginal youth
At "Youth Choice, Your Voice", Aboriginal youth from across Alberta recommended the development of services and support for youth through the development of Aboriginal Youth Centers. With the exception of local Friendship Centers or other agencies, there are few community/ recreational or wellness centers where youth can meet together or receive services. Aboriginal youth spoke about feeling intimidated or uncomfortable going to mainstream centers and wanted a central facility where they, and their families, could receive a range of services. Again, suggested types of centers were; wellness centers; cultural centers; and community recreation centers.
Overall, Aboriginal youth involved in the study had little or no understanding of their culture. In some instances, they expressed confusion around the usefulness of understanding the history of their ancestors and felt that the information "would not help them become successful or get a job".
Historically, Aboriginal people in Canada have been denied the physical and social manifestations of their cultures. Celebrations and ceremonies integral to the continuation of the culture were outlawed. Parents were taken from their homes and placed in residential schools or adopted into non-Aboriginal families and traditions, languages and ceremonies were lost. (Sacred Lives, 1999) Many Métis families chose to keep their ancestry a secret for fear of discrimination and lost many of the rich and complex traditions. Although this trend is reversing, many of the Aboriginal youth in the study were disconnected from their traditions and history.
A gathering place strictly for Natives where people could go and do crafts. Have certain thing happening every night. But then people would be thinking that we were racist if we didn't let whites in. Aboriginal female - 15 yrs
"There should be a place where no alcohol & drugs are allowed. Some place where kids can have fun and hang out." Aboriginal female - 15 yrs
In particular Aboriginal youth in non-Aboriginal foster and adoptive families expressed a great need to be re-connected to their cultural background to ensure that personal and cultural pride is restored. They spoke about their desire to learn about their culture but found that the lack of cultural role models, Elders and cultural teachers to help them understand who they are as well as their cultural traditions was a barrier. They also spoke about a lack of opportunities to participate in programs and ceremony. These issues were identified as areas for service development. Recommendations will be discussed further in section three.