Indigenous youth initiative now a not-for-profit after closure of Ontario child advocate's office

An initiative that has provided a way for Indigenous youth from across northern Ontario to meet, talk about problems and offer solutions, and was facing an uncertain future after Ontario’s child and youth advocate’s office in Thunder Bay, Ont. was shuttered, has incorporated as a not-for-profit organization.

Through the child advocate’s office, Feathers Of Hope held several forums since 2013 on issues ranging from the child welfare system to the power of culture and produced several reports and other resources. It also reviewed and worked with recommendations arising from other investigations, like the inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations students in Thunder Bay and Frank Iacobucci’s review of First Nation’s representation on Ontario juries.

Crowe said they’ve used their work to get the attention of federal and provincial government officials on a number of issues.

“We didn’t want the years of hard work and effort and hope and dreams and everything else that young people contributed to disappear,” said Samantha Crowe, a long-time participant in Feathers Of Hope and who is now chairing the not-for-profit.

“We really did not want to see Feathers Of Hope disappear.”

Crowe said they incorporated early in 2019 and, more recently, secured the intellectual property to things like the Feathers Of Hope name, as well as all the reports and other resources produced over the past several years.

Feathers Of Hope “really makes sure that their voice is being heard and [Indigenous young people] have the opportunity to say how they feel their issues are, instead of someone going to their community and telling them ‘this is what’s wrong, this is how we’re going to fix it,'” Crowe said.

“We go directly to young people, they tell us how they see it, how they want to fix it and how to have sustainable solutions within their communities or within urban Indigenous communities.”

The child advocate’s office effectively provided a space for members to meet, as well as staff to help facilitate their work. Without that, Crowe said the new organization is looking to connect even more with other like-minded groups to build partnerships.

“Really, that’s going to be our biggest goal in the next little while, is having these partnerships to work together so that we can continue having young people being at our forefront,” she said, adding that the group is active online and through social media. 

“That is honestly our biggest focus, is making connections, whether through the city or outside communities or within Canada now.”

Securing steady funding

The Feathers Of Hope board members are now in the process of figuring out what they can accomplish, given their new situation, Crowe said, which includes identifying sources of funding.

She added that could include things like grants and other application-based funding sources, as well as donations.

“That’s the next little goal, is really trying to figure out how can we realistically and financially do the things that we want to do, and how can we still involve young people as much as possible throughout the process.”

The funding piece will be crucial, according to Moffat Makuto, the executive director of the Multicultural Association of Northwestern Ontario, which runs the Regional Multicultural Youth Council, a group which has been partnered with Feathers Of Hope.

The board members have the dedication and passion to do great things, he said, but, like many things, their efforts require money.

“These ideas they have, they can’t implement themselves,” he said. “If you’re going to produce any reports or bring young people together, money, again, is involved in all that stuff.”

“So you definitely need the money, but you also need the people who are very committed … if they get a lot more money, they’ll do a lot more things, if money is hard to get, they’ll still get together to keep the flame, the pilot flame going.”

Crowe said, in the short term, holding large forums will be difficult, but their mandate hasn’t changed — providing a safe space where Indigenous youth make their voices heard.

“Things are probably going to look a lot different than what the province-wide forums were,” she said.

“If we’re able to make those partnerships happen then we probably still can host them, so that’s really why we’re trying to build as many connections as possible right now.”

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