Native Teens Raise Funds for Downtown Youth Center

By Shauna Lewis

“We don’t need land claims, we are buying Vancouver one building at a time.”
~ Ginger Gosnell, President of UNYA and member of Nisga’a / Kwagiulth Nations

In a desire to provide urban Native youth with a gathering place amidst the backdrop of concrete and mass population, the Urban Native Youth Association is working toward the construction of a multi-purpose Native Youth Center to be located in Vancouver’s bustling eastside.

ConferenceGinger Gosnell, president of the Urban Native Youth Association, and UNYA spokesperson and Board of Directors member, Rivers Stonechild; enthusiastically addressed a crowd of nearly 200 people on April 12. Filling Vancouver’s Native Friendship Center, Elders, youth, community members and governmental and private representatives, gathered to witness the launch of the much-needed youth project.

“Because the Native Youth Center is the first of its kind, we’re making history by doing the work that we are doing here today,” Stonechild stated.

The initial planning stages of the estimated 50,000 square foot center were indicative of what the Native youth desired.

“Years ago when young people were approached and asked what it was they felt they needed in order to be supported and in order to achieve success, they came to UNYA and said ‘We need a place to start this good work, we need a place to start our healing and our growth, and to be able to learn and to be able to evolve.’ And so it came from community, and we’re here today to be apart of the first steps in making this dream a reality,” stated Gosnell.

Three years in the planning, the $30 million project has prompted a myriad of local sponsorship. With private institutions like CIBC contributing 200,000 and PetroCanada donating a generous $1.2 million, the project has already accumulated a sum of $4 million toward construction.

Along with private sponsors, the city of Vancouver has purchased a large lot on the corner of Hastings Street and Commercial drive where the NYC will be built. Also providing their patronage for the project are well known Aboriginal artists and activists, actor Evan Adams, author Lee Maracle and the prominent Chief Leonard George.

The Hon. Larry Campbell, Mayor of Vancouver, also attended the launch gathering and announced that the province of BC will be donating $1 million to the construction process.

“This is an incredible day. To see the project and to have one of the youth describe it to me and what’s going on is absolutely incredible,” Mayor Campbell announced. “It’s not going to be easy to raise $30 million, but you’ve shown leadership to build a partnership with the Aboriginal community, the private sector, the federal government, the province and the city.”

The mayor concluded his address with the realization that the project is 100% in the hands of First Nations people.

“This isn’t a bunch of white guys telling you what to build, this is your project.” Promising to continue to advocate for the project with his friends in Ottawa, Campbell’s words resonated from the podium. ” We demand that it be built, because this will change not only the youth, but our neighborhood.”

Estimated to be up and running by the end of 2007, the Vancouver Native Youth Center will provide First Nations youth with the tools needed to live healthier lives. With Native youth occupying 4 percent of the city’s total youth population, they are all too often over represented in regard to the negative statistics for urban youth.

When 40 percent of street youth in Vancouver are Aboriginal, a project like the NYC is more than a necessity. Possessing a First Nations focus through the incorporation of a Sweat Lodge, ‘Healing’ herbal gardens and a library filled with language resource texts, the NYC will also accommodate the need for informal services through providing youth with artistic outlets, employment resources, counseling and a youth lounge for socializing.