By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Thanks to some recent funding, a non-profit organization in British Columbia will be able to expand the programming it offers to Indigenous youth who have aged out of the foster care system.
Since 2017, the TELUS Friendly Future Foundation has given a total of $58,000 in funding to Dan’s Legacy, which provides life-skills programs and trauma-informed, culturally sensitive counselling to at-risk youth in Vancouver and surrounding areas.
The organization was created in honour of a 19-year-old named Dan whose life was scarred by sexual abuse. He died of a drug overdose in 2006.
Dan’s Legacy has been offering Indigenous cultural workshops at various locations through the Surrey School District since this past September.
TELUS provided $18,000 in its latest funding round to Dan’s Legacy.
“It’s pretty significant. They were one of our first funders when we reached out for support,” said Barb Coates, the executive director of the organization.
“This summer the plan is to take the youth out on a canoe trip,” she said.
A pair of four-day excursions are being planned, one in June and one in September. Both trips will start at Indian Arm, a glacier fjord adjacent to Vancouver, and will travel through the lower mainland of the province.
Previous initiatives from Dan’s Legacy that introduced Indigenous youth to land-based programming were considered huge successes.
“We’re bringing them back to the land,” Coates said. “Some of them grew up with a non-Indigenous family or Indigenous families that were struggling. They were completely disconnected from the land.”
In the Greater Vancouver area it is estimated there are about 20,000 youth who have aged out of the foster care system. A large percentage of those are Indigenous.
Many of them require special counselling to address trauma they’ve encountered in their lives. Often there is a lack of resources available.
A statistic indicates that 58 per cent of Indigenous youth who exit the foster care system in the province will encounter homelessness and/or struggle with addictions within three to five years.
Tom Littlewood, the program director at Dan’s Legacy, said those who graduate from foster care are provided with about $760 a month in support.
“They can’t survive on that,” he said. “They get into trouble almost immediately.”
That’s why Littlewood believes any type of programming that Dan’s Legacy is able to provide can be beneficial to Indigenous youth.
“They’ve been amazing,” he said of previous programming efforts. “With the project we piloted in Surrey we saw kids completely turn it around. It’s been life changing.”
Tomma Oleman, an Elder who has been leading the Indigenous cultural workshops, is thrilled to be part of Dan’s Legacy projects.
“Dan’s Legacy is incredibly passionate about helping at-risk Indigenous youth who are aging out of the foster care system,” he said. “They have great experience at providing support for the youth who are often forgotten.”
Oleman, 76, has worked with various First Nations to provide different support, including assistance for mental health issues, recovery and homelessness.
“It is essential for these youth to be connected to their culture and their Indigenous roots before they can begin to heal the intergenerational and experienced trauma through the programs at Dan’s Legacy,” he said. “Being involved with the organization as an Indigenous leader, I am able to connect with kids in the community and help them to learn about Indigenous culture through trips out of the urban areas they have become accustomed to and through the Indigenous cultural workshops.”
Oleman said the workshops he has been offering in Surrey since the fall have been extremely beneficial to some.
Oleman’s workshops include participants creating ceremonial drums. They also take part in medicinal informational gatherings, cultural counselling and classes, including cooking which builds some needed knowledge.
“They’ve been raised away from the culture,” Oleman said.
“It’s profound for most of them that don’t have an identity or connection.”
Oleman said a choice is given to Indigenous youth on just how much they wish to learn about their heritage.
“They want to see if they belong or if they want to walk away from it,” he said.
As for the TELUS Friendly Future Foundation, it’s a national organization that provides grants to Canadian registered charities that offer health or education programs to at-risk youth. The goal is to help these individuals have success in the digital world.
More information about Dan’s Legacy is available at danslegacy.com
And additional details on the TELUS foundation are available at friendlyfuture.com
Sam Laskaris is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the WINDSPEAKER.COM . The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI government funding