WAYCOBAH: A new program is helping to empower First Nations youth by engaging them with their community.
“Our program is for youth ages 11 to 18 in the We’koqma’q First Nation,” said band councillor Steven Googoo, who started the Youth Eagle Program (YEP) a month ago. “We’re trying to teach our youth 10 core pillars that they must abide by, practice, and demonstrate.”
Currently, 68 Waycobah youth are enrolled in the program. The core pillars include staying alcohol and drug free, studying Mi’kmaq language and culture, practicing respect for others, volunteerism, and academic integrity. Participants meet each week for activities such as game nights, fundraisers, or visits to the local gym. Googoo said he developed the 10 pillars in response to the issues he has seen in his community.
“I’ve been in council for four years. I’ve kind of had to sit back and observe what troubles our youth are having. Because we have a lot of substance abuse within our community, kids will start to fall into that an early age,” said Googoo.
Googoo said he also wants to help give youth a place to belong and to develop a strong connection to their cultural identity. He believes studying the Mi’kmaq language is important for young people.
“I looked at our Mi’kmaq language that’s going away… I’m in that age group where I can understand it, but I can’t speak it,” said Googoo.
Googoo says the community has shown strong support for the project. Other band councillors have volunteered their time to work with YEP, and members of the public have helped to sponsor sweaters for the group. Members of the Department of Justice have reached out to Googoo and Judge Laurel Halfpenny-MacQuarrie of Port Hawkesbury has donated board games and colouring books. StFX has partnered with YEP to provide math coaching to the children every second week.
Googoo has involved the community’s elders in the program as well by bringing them in as guest speakers and inviting them to sign pledges he has created for the youth.
“It’s basically a pledge saying that they will try their best to practice, learn, and demonstrate our core pillars… They have to take that pledge and get an elder to sign it,” said Googoo, who recently hosted a pledge signing ceremony with an elder from the community.
“It meant a lot to the kids, an elder being there.”
Participants in YEP can also earn badges and certificates by demonstrating the group’s 10 pillars. Googoo says the project has already had an impact on the children involved.
“I’ve been getting a lot of good feedback on the kids’ behaviour, not just within the program but outside in the community as well. They’re starting to help out more, they’re starting to volunteer, and they’re starting to commit,” said Googoo.
Googoo said he hopes the movement will continue to grow and expand.
“Eskasoni and Membertou are looking to take the program into their own communities. I’m actually meeting with Chapel Island Youth… I’m presenting to their program trying to get them to join as well,” said Googoo.
In the future, Googoo said he would like to see branches set up throughout Nova Scotia and hold provincial gatherings, similar to the meetings held by Scouts Canada.
“It’s really empowering for the kids, because one thing they don’t teach in scouts is Mi’kmaq language and our Mi’kmaq culture which is slowly leaving us now.”
For information on the Youth Eagle Program contact Steven Googoo at 902-631-1003 or via e-mail at: Stevegoogoo@Waycobah.ca.