Participants enjoy a canoe course run by the Anishinabe Spiritual Centre in Espanola, Ont. Photo courtesy of the Anishinabe Spiritual Centre

Northern community to empower native youth

  • November 9, 2012

Fr. David Shulist is inviting First Nations youth to strengthen the good aspirations and desires that already exist within them.

The Working to Empower Youth program will launch in January from the Anishinabe Spiritual Centre in Espanola, Ont., where Shulist is director. WEY has been a year in the making and was created in response to concerns from native communities, especially the Sagamok community, that youth are lacking spirituality and direction.

Elders, parents and teachers are “recognizing that there’s alienation and despair between the youth and the members of the community, especially at the level of their spirituality, at the level of their religious teachings,” said Shulist. “Religion is not popular in the world today, especially in the Western world, so this has compounded in the communities as well.”

Beginning with 12- and 13- year-olds, Shulist says the “hope is that they could have an avenue with which they would be able to invite and encourage and help young people to be able to participate in discovering their spiritual roots, their spiritual traditions, both the Anishinabe and Christian, and this could be a program that could do that.”

The teens will engage in community oriented activities, such as learning how to build a sweat lodge, under the guidance of an elder. The theme could be one of forgiveness and reconciliation.

A sense of community is one of the values Shulist hopes to instill. Staff from the centre, elders and teachers will take leading roles. This is a “program that is very much of a partnership with the centre and a community. It’s not the community coming to us saying you run a program,” Shulist said. With modern culture promoting individualism, “The (program’s) core value would be the communal value. They are a part of the community, a collective,” said Shulist. “A person is never defined as an individual alone. They are always part of a set of relationships. So to instill this realization, this understanding, this awareness that they belong to a communal reality.”

Shulist also hopes the program will instill in the teens a sense of honour for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the value of empowerment, the virtue of patience, rights of passage and the importance of being a source of inspiration, among others. He wants the youth to know they have the power “to make a difference, to choose what is good and to perpetuate the good.” And in the process, he wants to incorporate into the program the fact that the youth are close to nature.

“If I were to promote it to you as a 12-year-old,” said Shulist, “I would want to know what desires have you got, what are your hopes. I’d want to know, who are you? Who do you hope to be? Who are people that you look up to?”

His hope is that participants will discover themselves and be aware that there are institutions within their community, such as those relating to health care, that they can contribute to one day.

Shulist also hopes the program will receive financial support from the wider Catholic community. And if WEY proves to be successful, he plans on expanding it beyond the Manitoulin North Shore district and include youth up to ages 17 and 18.

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