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Review of the Roots of Youth Violence:
Community Perspectives Report

Volume 3: Section 4:

Report on Consultations with Urban Aboriginal Youth

Concerning Violence Involving Youth

Introduction

The Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres (OFIFC), a provincial Aboriginal organization that administers a range of Aboriginal youth programs, organized and facilitated consultation sessions with Aboriginal youth living in urban areas. Representing 27 friendship centres across Ontario, the OFIFC is uniquely situated to reach out to Aboriginal youth living in urban centres in a culturally appropriate way. The Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs helped pay for this consultation.

The Aboriginal youth consultations explored:

An Overview of the Process

In June 2008, the OFIFC organized and facilitated Aboriginal youth consultations in two stages. In the first stage, the OFIFC worked with local friendship centres to arrange consultations in northern Ontario urban areas (Kenora, Fort Frances, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Timmins and North Bay). In each location, 15 youth were invited to the local friendship centre to talk about violence involving youth and their communities. The OFIFC provided a facilitator and note-taker. Following each session, the OFIFC compiled a summary of the discussion and the recommendations.

In the second stage, the OFIFC organized a full-day session at its Toronto offices, bringing together 34 youth from urban areas in southern Ontario (Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, London, Niagara/Fort Erie and Barrie). Two OFIFC staff members facilitated the session. To help focus the discussion, youth participants at both the northern and southern consultations followed the same discussion guide that was used in the community consultations (please see the Neighbourhood Insights Final Report included in this volume). A local elder and an OFIFC education programmer spoke with youth about their roles and responsibilities. Again, the OFIFC provided a summary of the proceedings.

Participants

Youth that participated in the northern consultations offered perspectives from many different backgrounds and experiences. They were attending high school or post-secondary institutions, they were young mothers, they had just moved from a First Nation or small town to a larger urban centre, or they were living in the care of child and family services or in a variety of other circumstances. Many had close ties to reserve communities.

Youth that participated in the southern consultations were mostly in high school; however, some were attending post-secondary institutions or working. Other participants lived in shelters or foster care, and a few had been in custody. Some participants had close ties to reserve communities, while others had grown up primarily in large urban centres.

Violence Involving Youth and its Impacts on Communities

Participants in both the north and south had experienced violence involving youth and had been subject to a number of the immediate risk factors often identified for violence involving youth. Both northern and southern participants cited the following as roots of violence involving youth in their communities:

My Experience of Youth Violence

I never experienced youth violence until I entered high school. I found violence comes in every shape and form and from people you’d least expect it. I found people were the most violent towards people who were so-called, “un-cool,” people who have a different sexual orientation, and people who are from a lower class and don’t have money.

Growing up was very difficult and I was always aware of violence. I would even walk home from school after everyone else had left because I used to be so terrified. I was also very self-conscious.... I used to feel so sorry for people that got picked on, beat up or made the centre of attention, even though I was always in the same boat.

But here I am, out of high school, living downtown in a shelter and some people terrify me. I have had phones, money and even my dignity stolen. Violence really is everywhere, in all races [and] parts of the city.... I even got punched in the face when I was confronted [for] money. Then, I was in an awkward position whether to tell or not—the person would centre me out more and more. I don’t know if these people are unsure of themselves or whatever [or] how long violence will go on for. Will we ever escape it? I think people need to learn acceptance, then they will understand.... [B]ullies really don’t know how it affects the victims.

I’m not sure how to cure violence, but I think there should be commercials, billboards, groups, and things to make violence awareness everywhere and help people who experience [violence] or [give them] someone to turn to.

Toronto session participant

There were differences between north and south in terms of the way youth experienced violence. In the north, participants seemed to focus more on the effects of racism, family dysfunction, alcohol and drug abuse, suicide and depression. The young people in the north had closer ties with reserve communities and they mentioned outsiders coming into the community as a cause of violence. Youth in southern Ontario urban centres pointed out that larger cities like Toronto and Ottawa have many diverse neighbourhoods, and their experiences of violence depended on where they lived.

Local Strategies, Programs and Mechanisms to Address Violence Involving Youth

Aboriginal Youth in Northern Urban Centres

Aboriginal youth living in northern urban centres said local strategies and programs to address violence involving youth include youth centres, family services, youth programs and youth workers, and programs offered by organizations like Big Brothers and Big Sisters and the Salvation Army. The participants felt that elders, traditional healers and traditional medicine help youth to better address violence. Participants mentioned a healing and wellness program in North Bay that they believed could be helpful. Counselling, particularly youth counsellors or peer counselling, was also said to be helpful.

Several specific local programs were cited as effective. In Fort Frances, for example, the participants mentioned a substance abuse program, the Atikokan Crisis Centre for women and the local Al-Anon program. In Sault Ste. Marie, participants mentioned “The Hub,” which is associated with the Children’s Aid Society. Throughout the province, many Aboriginal youth felt that participating in sports and leisure activities like going to movies helped youth to keep busy and relieve stress. Neighbourhood Watch programs made youth feel safer and made them feel more like going home. Some felt that police helped to make their neighbourhoods safer, and in Sudbury, one youth suggested that security in co-op housing areas helped to decrease violence in his neighbourhood.

To address racism in northern urban centres, youth mentioned a race relations committee and a group of students working against bullying in a school in Fort Frances. In North Bay, Warriors Against Violence Everywhere (WAVE) was also cited. This group takes a stand against violence towards youth and adults in native communities.

Simply having a place to go was often mentioned. For example, the YMCA in North Bay provides a meeting place for young people, and in Fort Frances, the Urban Multipurpose Aboriginal Youth Centre, sponsored by the United Native Friendship Centre, provides educational, social, recreational and cultural activities for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth ages 13–24. The participants also felt that local friendship centres, which offer programs including drumming workshops, youth programs and traditional teaching by elders, helped them feel more connected to their communities and gave them a place to go.

Despite these promising efforts, some young people said that nothing was working. Some felt that more police were needed to prevent and deal with violence, but others said that police involvement with Aboriginal youth was mostly negative.

Aboriginal Youth in Southern Urban Centres

As in the north, participants from southern Ontario commented on programs and services in their neighbourhoods that help to address violence involving youth. Some felt that intramural and recreational activities (e.g., after-school programs and the YMCA) helped keep youth busy and out of trouble. Many youth found youth-led initiatives (e.g., youth councils and peer mentoring programs) to be particularly useful in helping them relate to other youth. They also mentioned the importance of local anti-bullying and mental health counselling programs.

A few participants talked about the Akwe:go program (Akwe:go means “everybody” or “all of us” in Mohawk). The Ministry of Children and Youth Services and other provincial agencies provide funding to the OFIFC for this program, which promotes healthy development in ways that respect cultural backgrounds and traditions. The program is for Aboriginal children ages 7–12 and is run in 27 friendship centres across Ontario. The program provides an action plan for each child, elder teachings, culturally relevant programs, recreational and after-school programs, peer support, health resources, and program referrals and awareness.

Some participants mentioned Job Connect, a provincial government program delivered through community delivery sites, some of which are sponsored by Aboriginal groups. It provides access to career/job information, training and employment placements. Youth from Barrie mentioned Simcoe Outreach Services, an agency funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, which provides counselling to individuals and families dealing with alcohol, drugs and gambling problems.

Like northern youth, Aboriginal youth in southern urban centres found support at local friendship centres. Many felt that friendship centres can help youth avoid violence. They found help lines effective when they needed someone to turn to, and they felt that Children’s Aid Society shelters and safe houses were useful in dealing with violence.

Native Youth Centre drop-in programs, the Youth Council at Native Child and Family Services of Toronto and the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto’s youth program were also considered positive influences in preventing violence. Police, teachers, parents and grandparents, volunteers, schools and counsellors were mentioned as helpful resources.

Nevertheless, some participants had no hope that violence could be stopped. Participants from London said that a helpful youth group had existed there, but had been cut because of lack of funding. Some young people expressed the view that many youth programs do not truly engage youth and are not accessible enough or are not delivered to youth where they are. Some youth felt that having police in their neighbourhoods helped deter violence. Others talked about harassment by police, and some said that they had been harassed or arrested by police based on their race.

Strategies, Programs and Mechanisms to Address the Issue of Violence Involving Youth

Participants were asked about the most important things that could be done in their neighbourhoods to address violence involving youth. In the north, participants recommended:

Aboriginal youth living in the south recommended:

Aboriginal youth in both northern and southern urban centres recommended:

Broad Structural or Strategic Measures to Address the Roots of Violence Involving Youth

Consultation participants both north and south offered suggestions to help address the roots of violence involving youth in their communities. The suggestions were similar throughout the consultations and are here presented in general categories:

Connecting Aboriginal Youth With Each Other

There should be a networking system to connect Aboriginal youth, as well as a provincial powwow. Powwows and other gatherings help youth develop a stronger sense of community. Youth also suggested that traditional ceremonies (e.g., sweats, smudging and using sweet grass) help them spiritually and in terms of their physical and mental health. Friendship centres should have programs or trips for youth from all over the province so that they can learn about each other. There should also be more youth conferences and gatherings to talk about issues like violence involving youth.

Youth and Aboriginal Representation

Youth should have a place on city councils and in governments, particularly in planning and policy-making. There should also be more advocacy and youth engagement in Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal agencies running programs for youth. Ontario needs more politicians who are Aboriginal, more youth-oriented politicians and youth leaders.

Education About Violence

The Province should develop anti-violence programs for younger children to stop violence before it starts. A mandatory youth anti-violence class for credit in high school should be created, and there should be an anti-violence day and a provincial youth anti-violence conference.

Racism and Bullying

Racism- and bullying-awareness presentations should be made in schools, and there should be posters, television and Internet public service announcements directed at youth to help them make better choices. These may be more effective if youth give the presentations, sharing their own experiences with racism and bullying. Local anti-bullying presentations (such as OPP bullying presentations) can also make young people more aware of violence and ways of stopping it in their communities, homes and schools, as well as in society generally. There should be more sustainable funding for anti-bullying and anti-racism programs, and the programs should include real experiences related by youth who have dealt with violence.

Funding for Friendship Centres and Programs

More sustainable funding should be available for programs for and by youth and for traditional programs. Spending should be increased for current systems and programs that are working.

Further Recommendations to the Review

The participants were asked if they had any other advice for the review. Youth from both northern and southern consultations recommended:

Contents

Volume 1. Findings, Analysis and Conclusions

Volume 2. Executive Summary

Volume 3. Community Perspectives Report

Volume 4. Research Papers

Volume 5. Literature Reviews