One Decade Later: Reflecting on the success of the Aboriginal Youth and Education Strategy

Celebrating 10 years of the Aboriginal Youth and Education Strategy.
Celebrating 10 years of the Aboriginal Youth and Education Strategy.

Happy 10th birthday to the Aboriginal Youth and Education Strategy (AYES)! AYES launched in 2004 with the goal of increasing the high school completion rates of Aboriginal students in Calgary.  Joanne Pinnow, a Strategy Lead on the project, reflects on the past decade and what the future holds. As told to Felicia Zuniga.

Congratulations on 10 years of AYES. What does that mean to you?

  • Time flies, I can’t believe it’s been 10 years!
  • It’s unique.  We’re one of the few United Ways in Canada that’s had a long-term strategy committed to Aboriginal people.
  • Many different people and organizations worked on this strategy with us. Because of that we were able to accomplish so many things that wouldn’t have been possible on our own. We are so thankful for all of the help and support we’ve received over the past decade.

What are some of the strongest programs or initiatives that emerged from AYES?

  • MacPhail Family Aboriginal Pride Program– Aboriginal Pride Workers offered Aboriginal students’ a unique support option – providing academic assistance and facilitating cultural teachings to engage students in school to succeed academically. One notable success was at Father Lacombe high school, where the percentage of Aboriginal students who graduated increased from 45 percent in the first year of the program to 77 percent in the last year.
  • The Connect Event – An annual event that provides agencies and school personnel an opportunity for face-to-face interaction with each other to network, share information and learn from presenters on selected topics to support Aboriginal youth.
  • The Full Circle team– A group of mainly Aboriginal-serving organizations, which initiated and fulfilled a five-year-plan to create and support a variety of projects and programs based in the community to support the success of Aboriginal students.
  • Understanding Pathways to Aboriginal Educational Achievement – This is a comparative report of two surveys: one focused on identifying success factors to finishing high school as told from the perspectives of Aboriginal graduates; and the other focused on the perspectives of Aboriginal youth who did not complete school and told us about the barriers they experienced.  This gave us a stronger understanding of the experience of Aboriginal students in our city.

What are some of the key learnings or insights that emerged from AYES?

  • Success from an Aboriginal perspective and success from a Western perspective can be very different. Both worldviews are valid.
  • A long-term strategy will evolve over time. It’s important to capture what you learn, evaluate what’s working and apply it to the strategy.

What’s one thing you want everyone to know about AYES?

  • That the strategy has adapted as Calgary changes.  The partners change, the programs change, the way we work changes, the way we evaluate changes.  And that’s good because a static model would not serve our Aboriginal community very well.
  • It’s had many challenges for sure, but I’m glad we continued with the work and found success in different places.  To do nothing would be an utter failure to our Aboriginal youth.

What does the future hold for AYES?

  • I’m really, really excited.  United Way will be focusing on addressing intergenerational trauma. Intergenerational trauma is defined as a collective complex trauma inflicted on a specific group identity or affiliation.
  • Things like low graduation rates, high youth suicide rates, and high incarceration rates are all symptoms of intergenerational trauma, which is incredibly pervasive. United Way will focus on the healing and well-being of Aboriginal children, youth and families.
  • This is an issue for all Canadians, not just Aboriginal people.  This issue is getting to be more and more in public conversation, and now we can support the healing of Aboriginal people to determine their own future.  The work won’t be easy, but I think it’s crucial and we could not have picked a more important issue to focus on.  This is very strategic in making transformational, long-term change.

Joanne Pinnow is a Métis woman from the Qu’Appelle Valley area of Saskatchewan.  She joined United Way of Calgary and Area in 2000. Joanne has a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Regina. Her interests include understanding Aboriginal intergenerational trauma and healing from Aboriginal perspectives, understanding evaluation from Aboriginal perspectives, supporting Aboriginal not-for-profit sector development and community development.