By Owen Charters
Earlier this year, I was honoured to attend and speak at the opening ceremony of the National Association of Friendship Centres Annual General Meeting in Ottawa. It was a wonderful experience—I was part of the Grand Entry, following drummers and other dignitaries as we entered the hotel ballroom. The ceremonies included all sorts of entertainment, from drummers to throat singers to a fiddler, and other speakers included the Chief Superintendent for Indigenous Relations for the RCMP, the mayor of Ottawa, and the CEO of the YMCA.
As we plan ahead for Boys and Girls Clubs in 2019, we are aware of the important work we still have to do to promote reconciliation and support Indigenous communities.
Here are my remarks:
On behalf of Boys and Girls Clubs across the country, I would like to thank you for having me here tonight. Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that we are standing on unceded Algonquin territory. And our office in Toronto sits on Treaty 13 territory, traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.
Boys and Girls Clubs serve 200,000 children and youth in 700 communities across the country. And I am proud to say several of our Clubs have formed meaningful relationships with their local Friendship Centres. Sitting with colleagues at the NAFC, I came to understand the deep and similar work our two organizations do in many communities, sometimes hand in hand.
We hope to form more of these relationships in the future, and help to build even stronger bonds between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth. Because, like you, Boys and Girls Clubs are dedicated to the next seven generations and beyond. And like you, every Club across the country is different, providing programming that is tailored to community needs.
We work with our youth to help them become the leaders of tomorrow. And tomorrow’s leaders have a duty to understand the history of this country and to never repeat our mistakes.
Reconciliation is something we all need. We want our Clubs, and the youth we serve, to understand the importance of reconciliation and work towards it. Because for the next seven generations, reconciliation is the work of non-Indigenous Canadians.
When I read the 94 Calls to Action released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I see the work of Boys and Girls Clubs. I see a need for education and employment programming. I see a call for early childhood education programs, and better options for young offenders. My heart breaks at the news that nearly half of the youth incarcerated in Canada are Indigenous.
The sixty-sixth call to action is about youth programming and community-based youth organizations. The eighty-ninth call asks for policies that promote physical activity as a fundamental element of health and well-being. At Boys and Girls Clubs, we will raise our voices to support these calls to action, because in our Clubs we see—every day—the good that these programs can do for all children and youth.
In my travels to observe the important work of our Clubs—in the far North dealing with mental health, on reserve in Saddle Lake, the homeless shelters for Indigenous youth in Calgary, the outreach programs in north Winnipeg—I have seen the incredible strides we are making, but also the importance of doing more in the spirit of reconciliation.
We also know, importantly, what it means for children and youth to see themselves and their culture represented in the programming designed for them. We serve large populations of newcomers, urban and rural Indigenous youth, LGBTQ2S youth, and others who have been historically marginalized.
At Boys and Girls Clubs, one of our core values is belonging. We focus on inclusion. We want our Clubs to feel like a home away from home. But we also know that Clubs can never take the place of Friendship Centres for Indigenous children and youth.
We applaud the work you do to give urban Indigenous children, youth, and families a place that is, for many, as close to home as they can get. I thank you for the work that you do and the supportive spaces that you offer.
And I thank you for being open to working with us at Boys and Girls Clubs so that we can do better in our reconciliation efforts.