Tamara Sock, left, and Tyrone Paul are two of the co-ordinators of a Native Council of P.E.I. program aimed at preventing substance abuse.
The Native Council of Prince Edward Island has launched a three-year initiative to teach youths about their culture and history and how to live healthy lives without drugs and alcohol.
The Walking the Red Road Project is aimed at youths from ages 10 to 24.
Tyrone Paul, one of the program co-ordinators, says the goal of the program is to create supports for young people to better themselves and live healthier lives.
“It’s a matter of finding and instilling self-respect, self-pride, and dignity while engaging them in contemporary methods in choosing leadership, life skills building and so forth,” Paul said at the recent launch of the initiative in Charlottetown.
The project will include a number of programs providing young people with what Paul hopes will be a greater self-awareness and awareness of their aboriginal culture. There will be a focus on the cultural protocols, he says, such as how to hold oneself in regard or esteem in public.
“(They’ll learn) how aboriginal society functioned and worked in past history and how that can still be applied today,” said Paul.
He says the Walking the Red Road Project has been in the works for a few years.
Andrew Sark, the director of communications and record management at NCPEI, says the program was greatly helped by a grant from Health Canada, totaling $490,000 over the three years of the program.
Sark credits Lisa Cooper, the director of operations at NCPEI, with the success of the grant application.
“This goes to speak to the importance and just how genuine and unique the program is,” said Sark. “To get funded for three years is very challenging, so you need a rock-solid plan to do so.”
He said they hope three years will turn into six or 12 years and eventually they won’t need to be applying for government funding every three years.
“We’ll be an umbrella group to address the mental and spiritual health of aboriginal youth,” said Sark.
Paul said the program will run both in Charlottetown and in the council’s satellite office in Portage. The programs offered in the two locations will be similar, he says, and sometimes the groups will combine for trips around the Island and off-Island.
He said the youth have been receptive of the idea of the project.
“The general basis of the (project) and establishment of the program itself was based on their desire for such types of programming as well as the fact that services gaps were existing along the lines of alcohol and substance abuse and its reduction, as opposed to looking at responsive programs and proactive programs,” said Paul.
Parents and other government service providers are also supportive of the project, said Paul. Many of the organizations that attended the launch had a “generally overwhelmingly positive response to it, and a genuine and great desire to establish a referral partnership network,” he said.
Paul said the name of the project, Walking the Red Road, comes from a fairly well known aboriginal adage.
“To walk the red road” means a person is living a healthy and meaningful life in accordance to cultural traditions. Sark adds the phrase comes from the Mikmaq word “toqikutimk,” which means “Together we are growing.”