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Salish Sea Sentinel | August 14, 2018

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Culture is healing

Culture is healing

On a brisk evening in Vancouver, a group of a few dozen Indigenous youth are gathered in the cozy basement of a downtown building eating salmon, getting to know each other and making drums with guidance from Squamish Nation cultural educator Anne Guss.

The group is all under 30, and representing nations across the country. They are here as part of a new inclusive program being run by YouthCo’s Yúusnewas team called Culture is Healing. The program involves hosting free cultural events for urban Indigenous youth, and aims to connect the youth with culture and each other.

The drum-making workshop is only the second Culture is Healing event, but the program has already started drawing a large turnout and created a buzz on social media.

The Sentinel caught up with Kwiigay iiwaans, one of the program’s organizers who is Squamish and Haida, to learn more about YouthCo and the new workshops.

The Sentinel: Tell me a bit about YouthCO, and how the Culture is Healing events began?

Kwiigay: YouthCo is an HIV and Hep C Society in Vancouver. We are youth driven, meaning everyone who works at YouthCO is under the age of 30. Our work aims to fight stigma, share knowledge, and provide resources around HIV and Hep-C. The Culture is Healing program began because we, the Yúusnewas team, felt a disconnect between those of us who are marginalized due to our HIV/Hep C status, gender/sexual orientation, income level, etc., and our access to cultural teachings in an urban environment.

How are the events planned, and who is allowed to attend? We work together as a team and with young Indigenous people in the community to decide what workshops we will offer. Planning generally starts about a month in advance. First we poll our community members about what cultural activities they would like to participate in. Next we start finding a facilitator, thinking about what we need to set up the space and materials if needed. After this we can start promoting with a Facebook event page, on our website (with option to RSVP), Instagram, and other platforms. The week and day of we set up the space, arrange food and get ready to host! We want to ensure this is a low-barrier event, and that means making the workshops free of charge, providing food, and communicating access needs. This program is by and for all self-identified Indigenous people between the ages of 14 – 29 regardless of sexuality, gender, or abilities.

The first event was a plant medicine workshop, then the drum-making. What kind of response have you seen at those? Is there a high demand?

As we host more events, they have been becoming increasingly popular! We’ve been getting a lot of great feedback from our communities about these events, and a lot of excitement around what future events Culture is Healing will host.

At the drum-making workshop, there were youth from Indigenous communities across the country. Can you talk about why having a venue to reconnect is important for youth in the city?

Colonialism has caused many of us to grow up with very little of our cultural teachings. In our communities we can see and live this reality daily. Living in an urban environment can bring its own unique difficulties. It is still important for those of us who face additional barriers due to our vast and varied intersecting identities to have a safer space, dedicated for us, to exist in and share teachings with each other in order to build stronger, and more inclusive communities.

It’s a unique program. What’s the best part about hosting such events?

It is so rewarding hearing all the feedback from our community! Personally I’ve struggled to find space that honours my intersecting identities while also sharing cultural teachings and found solace at Yúusnewas. Having the privilege of doing the work to put on events like this is a dream come true for me.

Have there been any challenges?

Working together as a team we get everything done fairy efficiently with little difficulty. While there have been hiccups along the road, we’ve yet to face a problem we could not work through together.

It seems like the program has been a success — what’s next for the future?

Going out on the land, nature walks, movie nights, beading, the possibilities are endless! Our community decides which future events we host while we figure out how to provide it to them. We are planning on having monthly volunteer meet ups as well, building a team that will work alongside us during our Culture is Healing events in varying capacities, and assisting with outreach. What would you say to youth who might be considering attending, or want to get involved in other ways? Check out our social media platforms if you would like more information, and please don’t hesitate to contact us using whichever platform feels best for you!

More information about the workshops is available at www.youthco.org.