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Noront Resources, a junior mining company working toward the development of its Eagle’s Nest nickel-copper-PGE deposit in Ontario’s Ring of Fire, is lending its support to a youth empowerment program for First Nation kids who could one day end up working for the company.
DAREarts, a charity that works with youth in challenging circumstances, began its relationship with Webequie four years ago when youth and elders from the First Nation community exposed to DAREarts programming at a Junior Ranger camp asked for help.
“There wasn’t any money in the budget for Webequie, but I couldn’t say no to them,” said DAREarts founder and president Marilyn Field. “I put in some of my own seed money for the first few years until we eventually found some funding.”
The organization uses the arts, including storytelling, photography, dance, drama and music, to help young people build confidence and leadership skills. A DAREarts team visits Webequie once a year for between a week to three weeks at a time, usually in the fall “to set the kids up for success in the school year,” said Field.
“We have really seen the kids come out of their shells and express themselves. They have an immense talent. They have a lot to tell and a lot to give.”
Webequie is a challenging environment in which to grow up. It suffers from high youth suicide rates, prescription drug use, unemployment and isolation. High school means leaving home for Thunder Bay, 450 kilometres to the south.
The dropout rate is high, but in the DAREarts program this year, said Fields, “we had 27 kids on the first day and a month later we had 27 kids.”
Webequie youth want to modernize their community and find a balance between their traditions and the modern world, said Field. “They’re the generation that will have to do this. These kids want jobs and it’s up to us to help them find ways to bring employment to the community.”
Engaging youth is a very important part of corporate social responsibility, said Leanne Hall, Noront Resources’ vice-president, human resources. “Three years ago, when we became involved, there were a number of youth suicides. The kids were feeling lost and disconnected. But through the arts, they could connect with their culture and figure out their place in the world. They could have a voice, know that they matter and feel safe to share.
“We’re an exploration company moving toward development and working on their traditional land,” added Hall. “If they’re not switched on and engaged, if they’re not staying in school and don’t feel that they matter, we won’t be able to move forward with our Aboriginal inclusion model.”
In September, a documentary film produced by Webequie youth was screened at Toronto’s Bell Lightbox during the Toronto International Film Festival. The documentary, Fill My Hollow Bones, chronicles the DAREarts program over a period of three years and demonstrates the determination of the community’s youth to overcome the challenges they face.
A second screening of the documentary took place in Ontario’s legislature February 29th.