On January 21st, the Level Team headed north to host the launch and training event for our first-ever Indigenous Youth Outreach Program delivery in Thunder Bay. The event was held at Kingsway Park Public School, which will be the location for program delivery commencing in February. Over 40 members of the Thunder Bay community attended, including a large contingent of law students from the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law at Lakehead University, many of whom will be volunteering for the program.
Ovide Mercredi speaks to the crowd, including the Lakehead School Board Drum group (center)
The launch opened in a special way with a drum by the Lakehead School Board Drum group, consisting of elder Marcel Bananish, Nyjoe Ritchie, Kingsway Principal Darren Lentz, and three students from Kingsway Park, some of whom will be participating in IYOP once the program commences. Following the drum, Elder Bananish provided a prayer and opening remarks to welcome everyone to the Robinson Superior Treaty territory, and reminded the crowd that there are teachings in everything; for instance, the event day's full moon signifying the middle of winter, giving youth encouragement to keep moving forward in school and in life. Following this, our Director of Programs, Lisa Del Col, welcomed attendees and emphasized the importance of learning the histories and lived realities of Indigenous communities prior to embarking on working with these communities, emphasizing listening and walking together.
Level's Director of Programs, Lisa Del Col, and Program Manager, Tristan Mohamed, join Ovide Mercredi for a photo following Mr. Mercredi's keynote.
The event keynote, Ovide Mercredi, spoke about the importance of programs such as IYOP for the youth in the Thunder Bay community, citing the systemic issues that negatively impact equal access to justice, the negative impacts of bigotry, and the need for everyone to understand the histories and systems that have led to inequities, saying "belonging to a family and community is a fundamental human right of Indigenous people...[and] residential schools interrupted this." He emphasized the importance of building relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to close the gaps, and highlighted the importance of volunteerism to democracy.
Celina Reitberger, Darren Lentz, and Denise Baxter (L-R) share tips and best practices for effectively and respectfully building relationships with Indigenous youth, moderated by Tristan Mohamed
Following the speech from Mr. Mercredi, Level's Program Manager Tristan Mohamed facilitated a panel discussion on allyship, featuring Celina Reitberger, Chair of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, Denise Baxter, Vice Provost, Aboriginal Initiatives, Lakehead University, and Darren Lentz, Principal of Kingsway Park Public School. The panel shifted the discussion from allyship to friendship, emphasizing the importance of respect, relationships, and accountability when working with Indigenous youth and communities. Principal Lentz emphasized the importance of two words for volunteers: "be there". These words, the advice of the panel, and the teachings by elder Bananish and Mr. Mercredi really resonated with program attendees, who left the event feeling inspired, energized, and ready to take on their roles as IYOP volunteers.
Header photo by Robin Sutherland. Remaining photos by Lisa Del Col