The not-entirely-exhaustive but still fairly lengthy, story of our Indigenous programming started.

DateDecember 16th, 2021

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As a charity, empowering and encouraging people to live lives that care for others is what we’re all about. And since our beginning in 2000, we’ve had young people crisscross the country to deliver that message in schools and communities across Canada. 

Eventually, one team became two, and they would take off in opposite directions before returning each semester. But then towards the end of 2015, a significant investment in our Canadian Youth Fund by the Samantha Mason Foundation allowed us to dream of adding a third team. 

Listening and learning
In January 2016, we wanted to learn more about the needs and challenges that were facing Indigenous youth and had a meeting with Northern Manitoba’s then Grand Chief, Sheila North.

In the past, we had been invited to several Indigenous schools as part of our general programming but during this time, we wanted to look into the possibility of bringing our sixty-minute, interactive presentations to remote communities.

We realized that, instead of adding another general team with the same programming, we needed to explore the idea of having a team composed of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth who could deliver expanded programming to serve Indigenous, remote communities and participate in an “Ice-Road Tour”.

It took a year to develop
Our aim was to begin this new program in January of 2017, which gave us all a year to develop the programming and prepare to launch this third team. 

Research and consultations took place early on with a variety of Indigenous leaders, scholars, practitioners, and other Indigenous youth program leaders. On top of that, a literature review on Indigenous youth empowerment took place.

On May 19th, 2016, Trisha North was hired as the Indigenous Program and Road Team Leader. This role was important because it allowed her to be involved in the program development before being the team’s first leader to bring it into the communities. 

During the annual general meeting for the Chiefs of Northern Manitoba (MKO) that took place in August 2016, after having the chance to share our vision and values, unanimous approval and an invitation to partner to reach youth in northern communities was extended to us.

As an organization, we were incredibly humbled and excited to receive this invitation along with the wisdom, advice, and input from the Chiefs during this gathering.

In the fall of 2016, with support from MKO, the Chemawawin Cree Nation received funding from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) for the first-ever Youth Empowerment Ice Road Tour with our soon-to-be-launched Indigenous-focused team.

It took a lot of support to get the program to this point, and now it was time to deliver.

Time for action
In January 2017, 6 young people came to Hamilton in order to be onboarded and trained before heading out to remote communities.

All eyes were on this first tour, and leadership from across the organization spent a significant amount of time observing and gathering input on the program. 

After a successful Ice Road Tour, we wanted to invest in communicating with communities and building relationships, so an Indigenous Program and School Liaison was hired in August 2017.

Expansion followed, with INAC increasing their funding and the Southern Chiefs Organization in Manitoba passing a unanimous motion to partner with us. Eventually, the program began to spread out and reach schools and communities in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia.

Always changing
There have been some incredible stories of lives being changed, and we have witnessed great results over the years—but there is always room for improvement.

Since the beginning, we’ve been committed to the ongoing development of the program and continue to invite schools, communities, staff, and volunteers who have helped run the program first-hand, to share their feedback.

It all began with a desire to make a significant difference in the lives of youth and has grown into a two-day program that has reached thousands of students. 

While the story is far from over, in the end, it’s all about reaching youth.

Volunteer road team members for our first ever Ice Road Tour.
The Sprinter brought our teams from community to community.
These two day visits were impactful for everyone involved.