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Taking an active role in the long-term health of inner city and foster children is for the greater good of all of us

BC Ideas ( is an online competition, which asks British Columbians like you to bring forward innovative ideas and programs that address the challenges facing our province. The competition’s Idea Centre features an Open Dialogue Series with weekly topics that address trends, challenges, and opportunities faced social innovators and BC communities. This week the Idea Centre will focus on Aboriginal Communities. Join the conversation, and consider entering your idea or innovation in the competition before the September 12th deadline.  

Culture, Spirituality, Mentorship: Unleashing the Potential of Aboriginal Youth

Girls who have strong identities, rooted in a sense of belonging and pride in their cultural heritage, are more likely to grow up to become healthy, confident adults who achieve all that they set out to accomplish.  

That’s one core belief behind the work of Urban Butterflies, a program that nurtures and mentors Aboriginal girls in the foster care system by helping them experience their Aboriginal heritages. There are a disproportionate number of Aboriginal children in foster care, and they most often live with families that are not of Aboriginal descent.

Urban Butterflies is one of several solutions entered in the BC Ideas competition that is using cultural programs to stop the devastating legacy of the residential school system. The physical, sexual, and emotional abuse inflicted on survivors of the system has continued to affect multiple generations in the form of social problems like poverty, suicide, alcoholism, and drug addiction.

How does reconnection to culture and ancestry heal the pain of the past? As Urban Butterflies explains it:

“When children are taught the basics of their culture, it makes them understand who they are and what amazing abilities they can have. For instance, if you are told in foster care that your mother could not keep you because she was an alcoholic, you would come to believe that she is not a good person."

“If you explain to children the natural history of First Nations people in Canada and who they were pre-contact, the children come to realize that their situation and their mother’s addiction was not caused by something in their control. The children are relieved to know that the process of years of broken families through colonization and the residential school system causes deep intergenerational loss.”

The cultural program incorporates spirituality, mentorship, and friendship in their mission to help girls feel loved and truly believe in their ability to succeed. 

“We don’t just tell them they can succeed, but show them through role models like students from UBC and Elders who have led lives filled with success,”

“Using older teens as role models has always been part of the program too. 

- Joy Chalmers, founder of the program.

“Pre-teens are much more likely to listen to an under-20-something, rather than a person in their 40s. The most touching reality is that these girls will become life-long friends with each other. Isolation from family is a life-long dilemma for these girls.”

Support and funding for culturally relevant programming remains hard-won, despite the benefits from programs like Urban Butterflies. Joint partnerships, Chalmer notes, are key to making Urban Butterflies possible.

“Sharing our role with non-profits gives us more ideas and broadens the scope of volunteers, retired professionals, and Elders for programs,”

“Credit unions have done a lot of good for non-profits here in Vancouver. 

- Joy Chalmers

“But more community support in the form of corporate sponsorship—where the stakeholders are involved with the programming too—would be a boost. When we see the big corporations, rather than just municipal government, take on a role to help, broad change can happen. 

“Taking an active role in the long-term health of inner city and foster children is for the greater good of all of us.” 

Have a question about the challenges and opportunities facing Aboriginal Communities? Do you want to share your experience? Join this week’s Open Dialogue today!  And check out these other exciting competition entries.

Tool Lending Library: An initiative that aims to empower people to take pride in their homes and community by providing tools and workshops for home maintenance and renovation.

Swan Bay Rediscovery Program’s Canoe Journeys: A cultural program for empowering at-risk Haida youth.

Aboriginal Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scales Revised: A project to incorporate culturally safe standards for measuring the quality of care of early-childhood learning programs in Aboriginal settings.

First Voices: A project to document and revitalize languages of First Nations and make indigenous language learning available to all communities.

Women's Safety on Highway 16: Brings awareness and safety to the Highway of Tears, Highway 16 from Prince George to Prince Rupert, where 18 women who are officially missing and the actual number of those missing could be in the hundreds.

Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Commodification: Seeks to advance understanding of the relationship between cultural commodification and indigenous peoples' political and economic autonomy.

We Are All Connected - Ethical Tanning of Leather: Create and remember traditions by promoting and fostering the art of tanning hides using ancient, natural, non-toxic methods, amongst diverse indigenous nations. 


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OLC Admin

SFU Staff
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Co-operative Education
Simon Fraser University
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Aug 8, 2012

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