What We will Remember and other Thoughts on the Pandemic as Halton Families Meet the Return to School Challenge

By Nikki Taylor, Senior Manager, Early Years and Family Supports, Oakville Parent-Child Centre

In the middle of March, as I was closing my office up for what I thought would be a couple of weeks, I saved this picture as my screensaver.

Little did I know at the time, that six months later, we would still be living in this seemingly alternate universe. It feels like a lifetime ago. The picture of this little girl and her chick is still on my computer and each day when I look at it, I am reminded of what is really important during this time of stress and uncertainty.

As children, families, and teachers contemplate the return to school and academic learning, I have been listening closely to parents about what they both feel – and fear. For many, finding nuggets of hope and optimism strengthens their resiliency and ability to carry on. For others, the worry and fear overwhelms them and the reptilian brain takes control creating a propensity for instinctive fight, flight, or freeze responses. Fear and anxiety want comfort and certainty, and we know when it comes to COVID-19 there is no certainty. We can, however, find comfort and support in each other, maintain our sense of optimism, take hold of what we can control, and attempt to let go of what does not aid us.

So how do we take back our sense of control? How do we find our courage, our creativity, and soft hearts in order to protect and guide our children?

First and foremost, we cannot project adult fears and mindsets that negatively influence our children’s view of the world and their healthy growth and development. We must avoid righteous indignation and judgment and find a way to work together with compassion, tolerance, and a collaborative spirit. Our children need us to do this. And they need to watch us do this.

I am reminded of a quote by Dr. Hiam Ginott, teacher, child psychologist, psychotherapist, author, and parent educator.

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”

Every day parents and teachers have the opportunity to get up, take a few breaths, find gratitude, and make a conscious choice to create a healthy and nurturing environment for the children in their lives; to create a warm, sunny day out of the rain and cold.

I believe that this school year will not be about academics. I believe that it will be about the chance to strengthen our resiliency and relationships, and build deep, nurturing interdependence. Now more than ever, we understand how interconnected and reliant we are on each other – in our families, in our communities, and on a global level.

Finally, as I look for the silver lining in all this, I hope it will be the opportunity for parents and professionals to realign their relationships with children in the way nature intended. To restore the adult’s rightful place – in charge and with the responsibility and wisdom to lead our children through this pandemic. Now is the time to show them that they can depend on us and trust us to do what is best for them.

Collectively we can do this. When this pandemic has ended, what will stand out most in our memories is how we treated each other.

Young Milton Artist Mixes Compassion and Creativity to Make a Difference

Introduction by Vanessa Box-Jones, Our Kids Network Milton Community Hub Coordinator.

Shiuli Khanna is a grade 12 student in Milton, Ontario. She is an aspiring young artist and community volunteer who is passionate about engaging and supporting people and her community. Her work has been displayed in the Milton Art Centre gallery space.

Young Milton Artist Mixes Compassion and Creativity to Make a Difference

By Shiuli Khanna, visual artist, a grade 12 student, and community youth volunteer

I moved to Milton in grade 7 after spending a few years in Toronto. At the time, I was a scared 12 year-old kid who didn’t want to move from the big city to a “small town”, but the five amazing years that I’ve lived in Milton have definitely helped me become the passionate, creative person that I am today.

I’ve designed posters for the Milton Youth Advisory Task Force advertising, for the Milton Youth Awards, and my work has been on display in the gallery at the First Ontario Art Centre Milton. I’ve also been a member of the Milton Youth Task Force (MYTF) for 4 years. We work to impact our community and be informed, connected and empowered community leaders.  After one of our MYTF meetings, Vanessa Box-Jones, the Our Kids Network Milton Community Hub coordinator and an adult ally who works with our group, told me about an amazing opportunity to paint a mural for the Hub. I rarely turn down an opportunity to create art, so of course, I said yes!

Inspiration for the OKN Hub Mural

My inspiration for this artwork was all the wonderful people I’ve met in Milton. This town has become my home and I really wanted to portray its diversity and multicultural aspects in my mural. In fact, most of the pictures I have painted are either based on photos in my gallery or events I’ve seen. Whether it’s handing out flowers for the International Women’s Day March; walking around Milton during the coldest night of the year to raise funds for the homeless; or even just holding the door open for someone – simple acts go a long way, and I love picturing them in my art. I remember getting caught in the rain while waiting for the bus, luckily I had an umbrella. Someone else who was also waiting for the bus wasn’t as lucky so I offered to share my umbrella. I felt really good knowing that I made a difference in some way.

Shiuli stands beside her mural artwork, which will be installed at the Ontario First Art Centre Milton. The installation has been postponed until COVID-19 Emergency Measures are lifted.

Making a Difference by Getting Involved

Milton has a variety of opportunities to get involved in: the annual Milton Fall Fair; the Railway Museum; and farmers’ markets to support our local farmers; and many other seasonal events in downtown Milton. So to the people who may think there’s nothing to do in this “small town” (as I was once believed); I say get involved in our wonderful community and get to know more people!

You can join community groups such as the Milton Youth Task Force, where youth have the chance to share their voices and advocate for the youth of Milton. You can also put a smile on someone’s face by volunteering at the Milton District Hospital. I volunteer in palliative care, and being able to make someone smile can make your entire day. You could start a band and participate in the Battle of the Bands event, or perform in the Milton Fair. Youth have the opportunity to show their many talents during Milton Culture Days events with music, intricate henna (mehendi) designs and more. You could join the Fine Arts Society of Milton and have your artwork showcased in the First Ontario Arts Centre Milton gallery!

Artistic Expression and Future Plans

Art is everywhere and I love making it whether I’m painting, sketching, or just doodling. When I can’t convey my feelings and emotions through words, I turn to art because it allows me to express myself freely without being judged. I’ll be graduating in a year and my aspiration is to attend medical school. Medicine is an incredibly stressful field, so I’m glad that I have art as an outlet when times get difficult. Though I can’t say for sure how art will fit into my future, it will always be a part of who I am. And I know that if I had never come to Milton, I’d be a very different person for sure.

Follow Shiuli on Instagram @shiulikhanna.

Conversations about Racism with Children. This is personal.

By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

Have you had a conversation with a child or youth about racism?

It would be difficult not to if you have a school-aged child or youth in your life. It’s a daily conversation in my home these days. While trying to encourage my 10-year-old to continue with her Grade 5 studies in order not to be a middle school drop-out adding to the number of Indigenous people who do not complete high school, I learned she has been watching Black Lives Matter demonstrations and protests on social media.  She has a hard time explaining how to add fractions, but she can show me how to signal if she needs a helmet in a demonstration or how to escape riot police.

My 14-year-old son has some pretty strong views too. I asked him how to make an Instagram post all black to show my support for the Black Lives Matter protests and he argued against it.  Not because he doesn’t support the movement, but because he feels people are jumping on a band wagon. He questions whether people are doing what seems easy or are they actively advocating in their lives every day. “Wow,” I thought, “I think I might be doing something right as a parent.”

I have a sense of what my kids are thinking about when it comes to racism, because I have these conversations with my kids regularly. To be sure, they are tough talks. As an Indigenous mother, it can be heartbreaking, but I do not have the luxury of choice. My kids are Indigenous in Canada. I have to ensure that they have the tools to deal with inevitable racism.

How do I start discussing systemic racism? 

My children were so excited to receive their Registered Indian cards in the mail. The fact that they are Registered Indians, as defined by the Government of Canada’s Indian Act – systemic legislation designed to assimilate and civilize the Indian – seemed like great place to start. It’s not like Mom hasn’t rained on their parade before.

So, I started with the Pass System. Notice how “system” is right there in the name. Systemic racism should be easy to spot, really. Canada’s Pass System required any Indian wanting to leave the reserve – for any reason – to ask permission of the “Indian Agent”. In fact, almost all activities required permission from the Indian Agent.  My children’s Kokhum (grandmother) had her own experience with this person.  “The Indian Agent sure was mad when your Mooshum and I got married”, she told my kids. “Your Mooshum didn’t ask for permission to marry me. Good thing we didn’t get married on the reserve. It may not have happened!”

I have also only touched on the Residential School System with my kids. These topics must be presented in small doses, and as necessary. Children can easily be overwhelmed with such heart-breaking information and need time to digest it.

Unfortunately, I have to speak to my children about the racism they will encounter at school, in sports, and with friends, and also with well-meaning non-Indigenous people in their lives.  If I had a Loonie for every time I heard “But you don’t look like an Indian. I think you mean to say you are Metis.” when I was growing up… Well I’d rather not think about that number right now. It didn’t take me long to learn that explaining the fact that I was a Registered Status Indian and band member of Peepeekisis First Nation, wouldn’t get me far with non-Indigenous parents and teachers who felt the need to set me straight on who I am. As a child, I always wondered why I was the one teaching them. They were the adults.

My son, who is very proud to be Indigenous, wears his identity on his sleeve. Literally. He recently did a peer to peer exchange with youth from Attiwapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario through Hockey Cares. You might recall hearing about Attiwapiskat in the news a few years back. The community realized a cluster of suicides and called on the Federal government to provide adequate mental health services.

The youth in Attiwapiskat gave out ball caps and hoodies with their community crest and the words “Proud to be Native” as gifts. I beam with joy to see my son wearing these items. As a kid growing up on the prairies, I knew that identifying yourself as a First Nations person could be dangerous. It still is actually, when we remember Coulton Boushie, the young Indigenous man who was killed by a white farmer in rural Saskatchewan.

Back to my son. He endured a racial incident with his friends this winter. I found him sobbing in his room one day. A visceral sob that I recognized. He was in pain. A pain that a mother’s kiss wouldn’t fix. Apparently a virtual game he was playing with friends got heated. Words were exchanged. None of them good, including my son’s. It got to the point where my son was told, “Go back to Residential School and get (insert word for sexual assault).” I never learned about Indigenous people in school, yet I went to a high school surrounded by First Nations reserves. Not one teacher, nor topic in the curriculum, was Indigenous.  I also never thought that this current generation, now learning the truth about how Indigenous people have suffered, would use this knowledge against us. It was a week of tough conversations in my home.

I recognize that this is my son’s story to tell and, traditionally, stories should really be told in winter. But I will say a prayer and ask for forgiveness because I think it is an important story that illustrates the importance of talking about racism with our children. You may be thinking, “My children are not racist. I know my kids.”  Some of you are saying, “We are first or second generation Canadians. We know racism. We are in Canada because we left that behind.”  Maybe you are saying, “This is Canada, Halton or anywhere else. Racism doesn’t happen here.” Yes, it does.

I am closing by recommending resources that I hope will help you talk about racism with children and youth. Start the conversation. It is never too early or too late. Make an effort to understand what they are thinking. Help shape their worldviews to be inclusive of all, respectful, and kind.

Take some time to explore the resources linked below and to do your own web research. The resources are there for you as to use as tools for making change.

How to change systemic racism in Canada. What does racism look like in Canada? Web series called “First Things First“, and produced by TVO, features Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. She tells us the story of Jordan River Anderson and why she continues to fight the Canadian government to gain rights for Indigenous children.

What needs to change to end systemic racism in Canada towards Indigenous peoples. Anne-Marie Mediwake of CTV’s Your Morning show interviews former MKO Chief Sheila North who reacts to some Canadian politicians denying systemic racism.

How can I help? Eddy Robinson is an educator on Indigenous issues. In this TVO web series called “First Things First”, Robinson explains why asking “How Can I Help?” is not the right question.

Racism: Indigenous Perspective with Senator Murray Sinclair. How and why do the impacts of history persist? How racism is directly or indirectly manifested in our society?  What are our obligations to address racism? How do we reconcile divisions created by racism? How do we directly or indirectly reinforce racism?  How is racism holding us back? In this video Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs explores these questions with Senator Sinclair.

21 Things You May Not Have Known About the Indian Act. Activist and author, Bob Joseph, looks at some of the restrictions and impacts imposed on First Nations (some have since been removed in revisions of the Act).

Helping Youth Thrive in these Unpredictable Times

The Virtual Halton Youth Initiative Program

By Siobhan Laverdiere, Halton Youth Initiative Project Coordinator and Lily Viggiano, Youth Asset Builder

The goal of the Halton Youth Initiative (HYI) is to elevate youth voice and empower youth to have a positive impact in the communities of North Oakville, Acton, Aldershot and Milton. The project is youth-led, with young people identifying local issues and strategies for possible solutions.  Activities are grounded in an asset-building  approach and focuses on relationship building. Funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the initiative brings youth and adults together to form developmental relationships in the four communities. 

Youth Tackle Self-isolation: Using Technology to Cross Borders and Connect

By the time the Region of Halton instated COVID-19 pandemic emergency measures in early April, HYI youth groups had already begun to move the project to the virtual world. This important transition provided an unexpected opportunity for the four youth tables in North Oakville, Acton, Aldershot, and Milton to become borderless and to begin to connect with and get to know each other. Expanding their personal online communities to the other Halton HYI communities and beyond was a natural step for most of them.

Zoom online meeting

Still Reaching Goals in the Virtual World

Core HYI goals:

  1. Youth know more about local resources.
  2. People and organizations know more about topics that matter to youth.
  3. Youth work with community agencies to develop/promote positive youth hang-out space.

The four youth groups quickly found that they could continue their work virtually. They reorganized themselves into three online communities, each taking on one or two of the HYI core goals.

  • Communications Crew focuses on creating informative and engaging content for social media, the HYI website (blogs and vlogs) and traditional media.
  • Community Builders are developing campaigns that support or acknowledge specific groups of people in Halton during COVID-19, for example supporting seniors and acknowledging grocery store clerks.
  • Creative Spaces group is developing virtual activities for HYI youth and other youth in Halton. They are also promoting opportunities in the community for youth participation.

Weekly ZOOM meetings facilitate discussions and planning, and the youth use Google Classroom and Google Drive to share and edit content they have developed for their projects. They have posted blogs, images and other information on social media, and written letters to the editors of local media for National Volunteer Week, National Youth Week and about addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. They are coordinating virtual card games with seniors, recording DIY tutorials face masks, and hosting Kahoot! quiz championships for Halton youth.

The Town of Halton Hills and Positive Space Network have requested specific content from our teams for their own youth engagement activities.

Instagrams
Instagram posts by the Communications Crew

COVID-19 Virtual Response Game: Online Asset-Building

Most youth are feeling stressed, anxious, and bored during the pandemic. An empowering COVID-19 Virtual Response Team game was the answer to helping attend to these negative emotions.

Each week, youth and adult allies come together online to talk about one dimension of the Developmental Relationships framework. They participate in activities that connect with a weekly theme and compete for points and fun prizes.

For example, youth were asked to reflect on the Developmental Relationship dimension of Challenging Growth as it relates to their virtual participation.

How has changing everything onto a virtual platform in general challenged your personal growth?

“It’s helped me become more independent and create my own schedule.”
“I’m taking the initiative to ask others for help.”
“A lot of self-regulation…”
Self-motivation… “to focus on school work as there’s no strictness.”

Virtual Safe Space can Help Build Confidence and Boost In-person Participation in Future

The young people are responding positively to the three newly-formed groups and are growing through the virtual experience. Some who may not have high participation at in-person meetings are more confident and join in more within the virtual environment. The groups are learning the etiquette and protocols of meeting online as a group, such as one person speaking at a time and intentional listening. Skills that can support interpersonal in-person interactions later on.

We continue to find ways to foster connections between team members, they are also trying to find innovative ways to create safe spaces online for some young people to make it more comfortable to participate. This may lead to increased confidence and self-esteem later with in-person group meetings and interactions.

If you are a community partner and want more information about the Halton Youth Initiative or would like get involved visit www.haltonyouth.com or contact program coordinators, Siobhan Laverdiere, siobhan@ourkidsnetwork.ca or Lily Viggiano, lily@ourkidsnetwork.ca.

Download program overview and full details.

Halton Community Partners Share Ideas and Information on Supporting Youth

More ideas and strategies on supporting and working with youth during the COVID-19 pandemic from the Oakville YMCA, Oak Park Neighbourhood Centre, Oakville Public Library, Nelson Youth Centres, Milton Public Library, Canadian Gap Year Association. Download the PDF.

Aniin, Bozhoo, Sekon, Tansi, and Tawow!

Hello and Welcome…
You just took the first step in the journey of Indigenous Reconciliation.
Are you ready to move a mountain?

By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

What does Indigenous Reconciliation have to do with helping children and youth thrive? The answer may not be obvious at first, but the two concepts are, in fact, quite connected. Our Kids Network (OKN) has always been at the forefront of supporting community partners to identify issues and facilitate collaborative strategies and action. The Asset-Building movement, Early Years Initiative, the Early Years Mental Health Toolkit and the OKN Data Portal 2.0 are all examples of OKN and community led initiatives and strategies that support children and youth to thrive.

OKN is once again working on a critically important initiative; an Indigenous Reconciliation Strategy that will educate and engage OKN community partners in one of the most important and transformative movements in Canadian history.

A toddler-age girl holds her parents' hands and has a big smile as they walk through the park together.

Think about the Children

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) should be familiar to you and all Canadians by now. And perhaps you’ve heard about Residential Schools…

Well, in 2008, the TRC began its work to hear from thousands Indigenous people who attended the 130 Residential Schools that were in operation across Canada between 1831 and 1996. The purpose of the schools was to assimilate Indigenous children into the non-Indigenous way of being. The brutality experienced by these children has resulted in generations of Indigenous people struggling with lasting trauma.

Think about it for a minute. If you have children in your life right now, how would you feel if they were forcibly taken away from you by the government for the entire school year? You would have very little opportunity to teach them your values, traditions, and culture. Think about it from the children’s perspective. It is so difficult to imagine how afraid and confused they felt to be forced away from the people they trusted and loved, and the places where they were growing up …all at the hands of Canadian government officials. Unfortunately, I can imagine it because my father was a survivor of the Residential School System, as were my aunts and uncles. By now we are all aware of the reasons for the term Residential School Survivor.

The time is now to develop your knowledge of Indigenous people in Canada. You can visit the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation.

So Why is OKN Involved in Indigenous Reconciliation?

Well, for a number of reasons. OKN believes in what is stated in the TRC Final Report. That is, in order for Canada to flourish in the twenty-first century, reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people must be based on the Ten Principles of Reconciliation. We must be inspired to transform Canadian society so that our children and grandchildren can live together in dignity, peace, and prosperity on these lands we now share. (www.trc.ca)

OKN has a critical role to play in this goal by developing a Halton-wide Indigenous Reconciliation Strategy that is informed by the 94 Calls to Action and work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Our substantial network of agencies that support children and youth can be successful in honoring the Calls to Action through collective impact.

We know that the Residential School System has left a legacy of inter-generational trauma. One in four First Nations children live in poverty compared to 1 in 9 of other Canadian children. We know that Indigenous children in Halton and Canada are over represented in foster care. First Nations children more frequently come into contact with child welfare as a result of neglect and risk factors associated with poverty rather than referrals for physical or sexual abuse.

With an Indigenous Reconciliation Strategy in place, OKN and its community partners can play a significant role in ensuring that ALL children and youth in Halton thrive, including Indigenous children.

Increase your Indigenous literacy by exploring OKN’s Indigenous Reconciliation Strategy at OKN Indigenous Reconciliation.