Twice in this past month, as part of the Digital Natives project, I helped run workshops for Aboriginal youth, along with Phillip Djwa and Kristin Kozuback. Phil and Kris each have been doing this kind of thing for over ten years, Phil in helping to build capacity for digital connectivity among First Nations communities across B.C. and Kris in teaching and empowering Native youth, including at the Native Education College (NEC) at East 5th and Main in Vancouver. I’ve also been involved in various outreach education projects, including UBC’s Humanities 101 liberal arts program for low income people, and projects through the Eizabeth Frye Society, in the Downtown Eastside, and with seniors. These two workshops were amazing. 10 or so youth showed up for each (mostly under 25, many under 20 – and a couple parents at the second workshop) and we had a combination of Phil and I talking about social media, media literacy, and the Digital Natives public art project, followed by the participants brainstorming some messages that they wanted to get up on the billboard. This process was key for me – the kids are “digital natives” in both senses of the word – Marc Prensky’s of people who are wholly immersed in digital media due to having been born since 1980 – and as First Nations youth. But these kids were also – many of them – from marginal backgrounds. A couple didn’t know where they were sleeping that night – even as they may, as in one of the workshops, get a text message on their phone, from their grandma in Port Hardy. That was one thing I learned about urban aboriginal youth – how farflung their roots are. We had youth from Sechelt, from Haida Gwaii, from Williams Lake, from the Okanagan, and from Vancouver Island. And I also learned how creative – and socially-engaged – they are. The messages that they wrote on the first, Feb. 10, workshop: “As Aboriginal youth we need to honour our ancestors & their struggles – focus more on our languages, healthy lifestyles = stable families.” “What’s your status? Why do natives have to have status? Is Native education fair? I’m a Native grad so there!” “First Nations. We are not a stereotype. Not gone … not lost! Still connected.” And from the second, Feb. 24, workshop: “I’m not ‘Aboriginal,’ I’m Haida or I’m Tsimshian, or I’m etc….” “Keep resources and programs like EASY and OASIS going strong in communities.” “Programs like the East Side Aboriginal Space for Youth (EASY) shouldn’t be shut down so we can have the support to succeed in life.” Both sets of messages are on the twitter feed now; we plan to have the first set on the April 4 rollout on the billboard, and the second coming on mid-month. On both occasions when I walked into the NEC there were drumming circles going on, as elders filled the space with chants and beats. In the second workshop, a drummer joined us, his drum in its container as we learned about what youth are up to with new forms of communication and creativity.
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