By Chad Polito
BGC Dawson’s Youth Programs offer brave spaces for youth to become agents of change and decision makers on issues that directly impact them. Through the model: “For Youth by Youth,” Dawson encourages meaningful discussions because truth telling and testimonials are instrumental for healing. According to Darley Polony, Youth Programs Coordinator, Dawson uses “an anti-oppressive practice and fosters strength-based, participatory and trauma-informed approaches in all activities”.
Last year, BGC Dawson received a Youth Leading Reconciliation grant through BGC Canada to facilitate youth-led projects around Truth and Reconciliation. Youth Leading Reconciliation has been developed to engage Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth in cross-cultural dialogue, community building, and collaboration. Through youth-led approaches, participants will build knowledge and awareness about Truth and Reconciliation, while also exploring the ways that they can act as advocates and allies.
BGC Dawson has worked in partnership with Beurling Academy for many years to offer social, recreational and educational programs for students. When discussions around a youth-led Truth and Reconciliation project began at Beurling Academy, Darley Polony quickly offered BGC Dawson’s financial support for their project, strengthening this long-standing partnership.
The Beurling Academy project began with a visit to the school from Jessica Hernandez, the owner of Nicia’s Accessories in Kahnawake. “She taught us about residential schools” explains one student. “It was horrifying to learn that children were taken from their families in Canada and stripped of their identities.”
“Students wanted to do something to help reconcile for the past” explains Ms. Ashely, one of the teachers overseeing the project. “They were inspired by the visit (of Jessica Hernandez) and wanted to support her project 215+ in a meaningful way”. Project 215+ seeks to collect 215 pairs of moccasins in an effort to honour the children who never made it home from residential schools.
On Wednesday, March 23, 2022, students took part in a moccasin making workshop led by none other than Rebekah Elkerton, an Anishinaabe artist from Chippewas of the Thames First Nation. Elkerton is known as Moccasin Mama on Instagram, a platform she uses to highlight her art https://www.instagram.com/moccasinmama.
During the workshop, Elkerton taught students how to make small moccasins with a variety of materials. Students were eager to participate as this was “one practical way we can make a difference while raising awareness.” The moccasins made at the workshop will be put on full display at the school in the form of a memorial for all the children who never made it home. All the moccasins will eventually be donated to Project 215+ with the goal of raising awareness and continuing the conversation regarding Truth and Reconciliation.