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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Big Brothers, Saskatchewan First Nation Partner on Teen Mentoring Program
by Jennifer Graham in Regina Winnepeg Free Press

MEADOW LAKE, Sask. - A pilot project that is being called the first of its kind in Canada is aiming to give aboriginal children a role model.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada has partnered with a First Nation on a teen mentoring program. The organization signed an agreement last weekend that will see high school students from the Flying Dust First Nation who attend class in the city of Meadow Lake work with elementary school kids from the reserve.

"Some of our local agencies have worked very closely with First Nations communities, but mostly delivering programs in their community. This is the first time nationally that we've partnered with a First Nations community, where they have hired their own staff and delivered their own program," said Karen Shaver, vice-president of agency services with Big Brothers.

Shaver said the suggestion came from a Big Brothers board member who also works with the Meadow Lake Tribal Council.

That was a year and a-half ago.

It took a lot of discussion and several visits before things started to come together for the teen mentoring program.
Shaver noted Big Brothers doesn't typically work with communities with less than 10,000 people because of concerns that programs can't be sustained. She said that pretty much excluded all First Nations communities and the organization wanted to change that.

Flying Dust is not officially a member or an affiliate of Big Brothers. For now, they are just operating the mentoring program with support from Big Brothers.

"The reason why they chose that program is because one of the outcomes they'd like to see is an increase in community engagement with the teenagers themselves," said Shaver.

"The teen mentoring has been effective in raising the self-esteem of teenagers, increasing their independence, improving the quality of their decision making and increasing their civic or community engagement, in addition to the outcomes that it has on the young children, which are increased self-esteem, ability to get along better with their classmates and with teachers and a better attitude towards school."

"A lot of the kids in the mentoring program, the young kids, sometimes miss a lot of school, but they come to school when their mentor is there."

Shaver has a simple explanation: "Because somebody cares about them a lot and somebody's there just for them, to be there just for them to do whatever it is they want to do. Wouldn't you go to school for that?"

Flying Dust has hired a youth co-ordinator specifically to run the mentoring program.

Candace Chamakese, who is a member of the nearby Pelican Lake First Nation, jumped at the chance saying "everybody needs a role model."

"For little kids to look up to somebody, they need positive role models and I just thought this would be a great opportunity because I like working with kids and they are our next generation," said Chamakese.

Chamakese said the program will have First Nations cultural components. She's hoping to involve 40 elementary school kids.

"With this school mentoring program I think they will enjoy school a little bit more. It will give them something to look forward to because it's one hour out of a week and in school hours and they focus on non-school activities," said Chamakese.

"Studies show that kids that are in school mentoring programs or any mentoring programs, they do a lot better in school. They have more achievements. They have someone to look up to."

Shaver said the outcomes will be reviewed at the end of the one-year pilot project in part to determine if the program works within the First Nations culture.

But Shaver can't hide her optimism.

"I hope to see great things," she gushed.

"I hope to see that the program has impact on the teenagers and on the kids in the same way and maybe even more ways than the program has impact on non-First Nations kids in our programs. I hope to see that the community has the capacity and the willingness to continue with the delivery of the program.

"And I hope to see that other First Nations communities in Saskatchewan and further afield see this as a viable program to address some of the needs in their communities and that they'd consider partnering with us in similar ways."

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