Downtown Edmonton organizations have combined forces to make the transition to the city’s capital easier for Aboriginals.
“The highest needs of the urban Aboriginal population are housing and employment and how to register their children for school. Programming is at bare bones right now and there is a gap for new Aboriginal people in town. Aboriginal families are looking for support and resources,” said Cheryl Whiskeyjack, executive director of Bent Arrow Healing Society.
Bent Arrow is working in partnership with Boyle Street Community Services and Boyle Street Aboriginal Services to help fill those gaps. The New In Town Aboriginal Welcome Service program is a three-year pilot project funded at $1.2 million by the provincial government through the Safe Communities Innovation Fund.
Edmonton is home to the second largest urban Aboriginal population in the country. According to the 2006 federal census, Aboriginal people are the fastest growing population segment in Canada. Figures provided by the Urban Aboriginal Peoples Survey indicate that half of the Aboriginal population lives in urban centres.
The goal of the New In Town program is to support Aboriginal families that have lived in Edmonton one year or less.
“The economic boom was happening in Alberta two years ago and the Edmonton Aboriginal population is growing and will soon surpass Winnipeg’s Aboriginal numbers,” said Whiskeyjack.
The Aboriginal organizations piloting the project have a long established history in Edmonton not only working with Aboriginal people but also working with other organizations, such as municipal and provincial governments, school boards, Edmonton City Police and the Children’s Aid Services, which provide services to Aboriginals.
“Relationships are really important in an Aboriginal’s person’s culture,” said Whiskeyjack.
Environics, Urban Aboriginal Survey website stated, “Urban Aboriginal people retain a strong sense of connection to their ancestral communities or places of origin These links are integral to strong family and social ties, and to traditional and contemporary Aboriginal culture.”
“We really want Aboriginal people to be successful in both worlds, while keeping a connection to their cultural beliefs while living in a non-Aboriginal world. Being successful in education is important and we really want to support Aboriginals,” said Whiskeyjack.
The program will also be aiding Aboriginal inmates released from the correction system. Services to this group will include providing support to Aboriginals who struggle with the justice system. Referrals will come from Alberta Justice and other social agencies and Boyle Street and Bent Arrow work closely with federal government and provincial Correction departments and agencies.
“I commend the partners of this project for recognizing the need to work together to provide a support network for newcomers to Edmonton’s Aboriginal community. Through this partnership, safer communities are being built,” said Verlyn Olson, Justice minister and Attorney General.
The $60 million Safe Communities Innovation Fund is part of the provincial government’s response to reducing and preventing crime in Alberta.