In mid March, the Inter-tribal Youth Centre received news that its funding was going to be cut off within a matter of weeks. The Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth (CCAY) government program, the main source of financial support for the centre, has revoked their sponsorship. Faced with the imminent closure of one of the precious few resources available to Aboriginal youth in Montreal, the Native Friendship Centre, also facing its own budget crisis, rallied behind the program to keep it open. The Daily sat down with Ashanti Rosado, the youth coordinator of the Inter-tribal Youth Centre, to discuss how the program is dealing with its precarious financial situation.
Rosado sits in her office in the youth centre, situated in the basement of the Native Friendship Centre, door open and smile ready for any teen or passer-by who needs her help. Her workspace reflects the mission of the youth centre.
“Basically, we aim to provide a safe and welcoming space for the urban Aboriginal youth, [and] make them feel that they’re at home. It’s a supportive environment,” Rosado said.
The centre is set up with a pool table, computers, and couches, and offers a range of artistic activities for young people such as stone carving. However, the centre’s program and staff have been greatly reduced. Due to budget cuts, Rosado is the sole remaining employee.
“At this moment,” she explains, “I’m in charge of coordinating the activities, the workshop facilitators, volunteers, [and] helping the youth with whatever they need. Now, I’m in charge of everything, the administration of the project. There used to be two people, plus interns and volunteers, but with the situation, we had to lay off my co-worker. It’s just me left.”
The outreach that the centre has been able to provide has been cut back.
“Before, we used to have two, three, even four activities in a day. Now we have three during the week. Of course, we are in that process of trying to find ways of [getting] people to volunteer their time, and see how it goes from there,” Rosado said.
Despite the strain and numerous obstacles thrown in the path of the Inter-tribal Youth Centre, they have managed to remain open. The Native Friendship Centre has been a supportive partner in keeping the space open, but the Youth Centre’s own emphasis on cultural creativity has also proven to be an invaluable resource in keeping the project alive. The Mikinak Youth Co-operative, a group at the youth centre, is a collective of Aboriginal youth artists who create soapstone sculptures, a skill they learn through the programming at the centre. This initiative has proven to be an important resource for both the centre and the young artists.
“[The] project has been part of the center for the while. Maybe four, even five years. It’s been taking shape, [but] we still have a long way to go with it. But the idea is to provide training and educational tools for the youth, but also just have a fun activity … that relates to their culture as well and involve[s] the community in this project,” Rosado said.
The co-op offers their works for sale, with fifty per cent of the sale going to the artist, and the other fifty per cent going to the Youth Centre, which invests the money into funding programming.
“The profit that we make from the youth co-operative is helping us to have still something going on in the centre. I think that’s one of the reasons why a project like Mikinak is really good, it’s basically helping us to keep going,” Rosado said.
The Youth Centre is an invaluable resource for Aboriginal youth in Montreal, and though still under financial strain and program reduction, it remains a compassionate and friendly space for anyone who wants to stop by.
“The support of the people through the co-op, and even buying the pieces we have here, it helps a lot,” Rosado expressed.
“It’s actually what is helping us in these difficult times. In addition, I think that we’re pretty open for anybody that would like to bring their expertise and volunteer a couple of hours, and just help us to reach out to the youth and to bring the youth back,” Rosado said.
The Inter-tribal Youth Centre’s artistic and cultural creativity has allowed them to continue to operate, offering numerous resources and an open door to Aboriginal youth in Montreal.