Every Monday, half a dozen young people gather at the Boys & Girls Club at 232 32 Ave N.E. to talk about being young and indigenous in Calgary. They make up the Club’s Indigenous Youth Council and they give the Club guidance on its “iyika’kimaat” program. It provides indigenous youth between 12 and 21 years old with cultural, social, educational and community opportunities aimed at increasing their sense of identity and belonging.
“We are very fortunate to have some really great and energetic young people who have been in our program for a few years” says Christy Morgan, the Director of Indigenous Initiatives for the Boys & Girls Club of Calgary. “We get to see life through their eyes.”
Life can be tough for an Indigenous kid in Calgary’s urban environment. According to the United Way, one in ten Calgarians lives below the poverty line. That goes up to 1 in 4 among indigenous Calgarians. Through 2016, Christy Morgan was hearing a lot from the members of her Council about food. So she went looking for grants to provide the kids in the program with information on healthy eating. She contacted the Alberta Recreation and Parks Association and its “Choosewell” program. She didn’t get cash: she got something better. A connection.
The ARPA put her in touch with the Renfrew Community Association and its Community Garden. When the garden opened in May of 2017, Christy had secured access to three of the raised beds. After all, there is no better way to learn about food than trying to grow it.
The word Iiyika’kimaat, which means “to try hard” in Blackfoot. It was gifted to the Boys & Girls Club after consultation with elders. So Christy brought an elder to the project. Dakota Eagle Woman acted as a helper and advisor to the kids as they planted, weeded and harvested.
“For her to be able to share her knowledge and her teachings from her growing up and her traditional ways , to me, that was one of the biggest things coming out of this project” says Morgan.
It wasn’t always an easy row to hoe. Hail hammered Calgary and two of the three beds were wiped out. It was a lesson in resilience. The neophyte gardeners salvaged what plants they could, planted others and put in protective netting. While it wasn’t a bumper crop, everyone got some produce to take home. The corn didn’t mature, but beans, carrots and potatoes did, even a few tomatoes. Conversations have already started about trying again in the spring. The Choosewell program financed a garden tower. It will enable the kids to garden year round and raise stronger seedlings to plant outside.
Reflecting on the award, Christy Morgan says, “I always look for ways to praise our young people and their effort and continual interest in trying new things and wanting to learn more. It is really about them. And I’d like to thank Choosewell and Renfrew Community Association for walking with us on this journey.”