Ceremonial 'Rite of Passage'; a key to positive choices for our Aboriginal youth
Transitioning from childhood to adulthood can be rife with stresses, pressures and insecurities. The Red Road Healing Society made this transition a little smoother for a group of local groups through the Lodge of the Thunderbird Program in 2013. The program, funded by Ounce of Prevention, gave a group of 11 Indigenous participants the chance to participate in a traditional rite of passage. "Traditionally, a young girl enters the lodge as a child and emerges as an adult, whereupon she is acknowledged by the camp circle, and is given a traditional name that reflects her attributes as a young woman," said Joanne Pompana, director of The Red Road Healing Society. Community service and volunteerism was a huge part of the program that led up to the group arranging an autumn Round Dance with the theme Honouring Everyday Life. The youth involved went above and beyond what was expected of them. "They did an astronomical amount of volunteering," said Pompana. Participants were required to complete a set number of hours between June and December 2013, however, they ended up putting in four times the amount of time. They enjoyed doing activities together with the senior facilitator, Carmen Severight and being a part of the development and design for their program in collaboration with different community partners. The crux of the program was to honour our youth and assist them in understanding 'who they are' and 'where they come from' in relationship to themselves, to their families, and to the community. This was accomplished through various activities, art, field trips, and learning basic life skills within a western and traditional 'rite of passage' framework. This youth program fulfills a vital need in the Indigenous community, where the negative aspects of generational trauma have been the norm. "They are now accepted in the community as honourable young women," said Pompana. "When you don't have the rites of passage that are soul fulfilling and provide our young people with a 'sense of belonging' our Indigenous young have been known to unconsciously choose a negative 'sense of belonging' that sometimes they cannot escape from." In addition to offering a 'rite of passage', the program also taught the participants about how to be a woman who makes positive choices and how to be a leader in her community. In some Indigenous Plains Culture, when a woman had completed a particular 'rite of passage' she was also given a set of horsehair earrings along with her ceremonial name. Symbolically, this represented that, "the woman who wore horsehair earrings owned her own horses; and could therefore go where she pleased." She had her own tipi and was in control of her own life, and her role in the community. In responding to questions about their experiences in the program, participating youth said they learned about their culture, enjoyed volunteering and felt empowered to control their own futures. Organizers are hopeful that the program can continue in the summer of 2014 if funding can be secured. REACH Edmonton coordinates and supports the groups who access Ounce of Prevention funds from the City of Edmonton, bringing the safety and crime prevention lens to the program.