Knocking on Cultural Doors: Opening Pathways to Indigenous Heritage for Young People at Hull Services

Submitted on Tuesday, 06/20/2023 - 6:32 pm

Knocking on Cultural Doors: Opening Pathways to Indigenous Heritage for Young People at Hull Services

At Hull Services, we strive to give the young people and families we support access to as many cultural connections, tools and resources as possible – and for one program – that access is just a knock away, literally.

Our Specialized U-13 Program (U-13) provides specialized, trauma-informed, connection-based treatment to children under 13 years of age. The U-13 Program believes deeply that children in this setting will benefit from having access to cultural resources and connections to validate the critical importance of the strength often found in traditional values and cultural beliefs. The program supports Indigenous children and families by providing culturally relevant and respectful services such as access to elders, cultural activities, and ceremonies, as well as spiritual activities in our Cultural Hall, which is directly attached to U-13.

Jamie Deon-Hodgson began working as a Child and Youth Care Counsellor in the U-13 Program when it first opened in 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was impressed that the program was not only attached to the Cultural Hall, a place where the young people could pray and smudge indoors, but that it also gives direct access to a garden space that has a plot for the cultural garden where traditional medicines are grown.

These cultural connections piqued her interest and the interest of the young people in the U-13 program, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who yearned to learn about Indigenous ways of being – knowing – and doing.

“The youth would have questions about medicines and dancing in the Powwow,” says Deon-Hodgson. “They began having conversations with one another, showing genuine interest. Throughout the pandemic, it was difficult to navigate and organize different ways to keep the youth connected to the community.”

The counsellors tried as best they could, having them make heritage posters and serving new cultural foods each week, but Deon-Hodgson knew they craved more and wanted to open more doors.

In 2021, she began having conversations with her leadership team on providing more community-based cultural experiences to the young people once COVID-19 restrictions eased.

Providing these experiences requires a lot of preparation and planning that can come with barriers, but Deon-Hodgson was eager to give them that deeper connection.

“A lot of the youth were raised away from their communities or had minimal connection to their heritage,” says Deon-Hodgson. “With Truth and Reconciliation becoming a more known initiative, more events are being organized that are great learning opportunities.”

Then along came the Tsuu T’ina Powwow in 2022 – which the Indigenous youth got to attend and for many of them, it was their first Indigenous cultural experience.

“When the youth attended the Tsuu T’ina Powwow, it was such a great experience to witness them entering the powwow grounds and arbor (area where they dance),” says Deon-Hodgson. “Some of the youth were expressing not ever seeing so many Indigenous people at one place before, sharing, ‘I didn’t know there were so many of us’ and ‘I’ve never seen so many people before.’”

She watched with happiness in heart while they excitedly and patiently waited in long lines to try all the foods like Bannock burgers and Indian tacos, some even going back for seconds, and as they walked by the artisan stands set-up with Indigenous handmade ribbon skirts, clothing, and beadwork. Awestruck gravitated off them.

They continued to talk about the outing for days and were eager to show everyone the keepsake they purchased. They made happy memories.

“It was gratifying and rewarding to be able to witness their experiences,” says Deon-Hodgson. “This was an amazing opportunity, and the result of this outing was phenomenal. The experience was so special to them and that made all the organizing worth it.”

Deon-Hodgson now works as an Educational Child and Youth Care Counsellor at William Roper Hull School but continues to share initiatives and ideas with the Hull Indigenous Advisory Council and is still connected to the U-13 Program. Throughout the summer, she plans to continue to provide Indigenous teachings to interested youth.

She also plans to extend her reach and weave her experience throughout our Agency.

“I would like to encourage my peers to step out of a comfort zone and organize these outings within the programs – there are so many opportunities in and around Calgary,” says Deon-Hodgson. “You get to learn with the youth and experience things as a group. Creating memories and experiences they will remember and be able to share with others when they move on to do great things.”

Together, we can open so many cultural doors for the young people and families who are aching for that connection to their heritage – we just have to keep knocking.